The Home Nations: How Crucial Are These Friendlies?
It's that time again, players pulling out of International duty, not a game being played without a manager "experimenting," and as many subs being made as possible. That's right, it's international friendlies. Just how important are they?
The old rivalry between England and Germany is rekindled tonight when the two teams meet in Berlin. Whilst England always have a few first-teamers out, Theo Walcott's injury in training makes the number of regular players missing to eight.
No Gerrard, Lampard or Rooney, neither of the Coles, and in the last five days England found out they will have to go to Germany without Joe Hart or Theo Walcott. Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown are also missing.
Obviously it's a great opportunity for Fabio Capello to flex some of his more unconventional muscles. It's come as a huge surprise that the Italian has picked Michael Mancienne, but if anyone knows a defender, Fabio does, so maybe just maybe it'll be the start of something special.
As John Terry has said, a game against Germany is never a friendly, so it's hugely important that the players that have been drafted in do a job. It's a great opportunity for them, so they have to grab it by the scruff of the neck.
Zip over to Denmark, where Wales travel tonight. John Toshack has finally selected Aaron Ramsey for international duty, but quite rightly has been keen to downplay the role he will play. For Wales these friendlies are a great way to enhance their youth setup.
In an interview yesterday, Toshack stated "Someone down the line will benefit from the hard work we're doing now" and I think that speaks volumes for what he's trying to do.
A transitional manager, Toshack is blooding this new talent for the future, and whether he benefits from it in five years time of if someone else does, he just wants to enhance the future of the national team.
These friendlies are crucial to getting the kids in and playing at international level in a less pressured atmosphere.
Meanwhile, Scotland play host to Argentina at Hampden Park, where the world's media will be watching as Diego Maradona takes charge of Argentina for the first time. I don't think the Scots will be pinning much hope into the game tonight, it's not going to be about them unfortunately.
Perhaps that's what they need though. Focus off of George Burley's selection policy and on their opponents, so they can have a chance to just play some football and hone their game.
The Republic of Ireland host Poland at Croke Park, and I think it's vital they prove they can overcome opponents like this. There's not much to Poland up front but at the back they are solid. The Irish need to prove they can break teams like this down.
If they can, then they'll have no trouble ousting Bulgaria and Montenegro in their World Cup Qualifying group and solidifying second place, and at least challenging Italy for the top spot.
For Northern Ireland these games are huge, playing Hungary at home tonight, they desperately need a win. It would improve their world ranking a fair bit, and help them to get slightly easier groups for forthcoming campaigns.
It isn't just that either, the three teams above them in their WCQ group are arguably only narrowly better than them, and definitely beatable.
A win tonight would do their confidence no harm. That said, the Czech Republic do sit below them, so a return to winning ways may even be necessary for Northern Ireland to avoid the embarrassment of finishing fifth.
All the teams have something to play for tonight. What do I think will happen? I unfortunately suspect England will lose to Germany tonight, just as they did to France at the start of the year.
Scotland may have a chance against the Argentine circus, but will have to be on top form, I reckon they can scrape a draw tonight.
Wales could well go home beaten, but expect both Irish sides to get at least a draw, the Republic should win, the Northern Irish could win.
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