With England’s next competitive match not until March, mid November seems an unusual time for the Three Lions to be participating in friendlies. So far, the game against Sweden on Wednesday has been viewed more as a burden than an opportunity, and it is easy to see why.
Arsene Wenger expressed his disgust that Jack Wilshere has been thrown back into the international scene so quickly following his lengthy lay off, and Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon have all been ruled out for tomorrow’s match having picked up slight niggles over the weekend. With John Terry also confirmed absent, England are suddenly beginning to look a little short of options.
It surely makes good sense, therefore, to use this match as an opportunity to test some of the younger players, of which there are quite a few. With little other than pride riding on the match, and no competitive game for four months, England can afford to throw caution to the wind and give the younger generation a good run out on the international stage. Raheem Sterling has earned his second call up for the national side, and will be hoping to play a more pivotal role than the bench warming duties he was restricted to against Ukraine in September. After a string of impressive displays for Liverpool, he deserves an opportunity to shine for England.
Steven Caulker, Carl Jenkinson and Ryan Bertrand are another three youngsters who will be hoping that a call up translates into a cap. But perhaps the most intriguing name on the squad list is Wilfred Zaha. Zaha, who has already represented England at U19 and U21 level, had the chance to play for Ivory Coast instead, but after much deliberation opted to fight for a career with the Three Lions, a decision that will no doubt be seen as a blessing in a few years time.
Zaha has arguably been the best player in The Championship this season, playing an instrumental role in guiding Crystal Palace to the top and speculation over his future at Selhurst Park has inevitably intensified. Pundits have been quick to heap praise on Zaha, who only turned 20 on Saturday. His current manager Ian Holloway told BBC that he has never seen anybody with such talent and that “he can do it all with the ball at his feet, but he also has a modern day athleticism that is second to none.”
Zaha is the first Championship outfield player to get an England call up for two years, but for how much longer he remains a Championship player remains to be seen. With pace and skill, he ticks many of the boxes that Premier League managers will be looking at this January, and a lucrative offer may prove too difficult to decline for both player and club. For now, though, his focus should be on taking full advantage of an England debut should that opportunity arise.
It is rare that a game of such small significance comes around, and as such, England need to utilise this opportunity effectively and sample with different players. I can see no point in throwing Jack Wilshere straight back into the England team, jeapordising his recovery in the process, when there is a long list of players who are eager to show that they are capable of challenging for future England call ups in the more serious matches.