Despite many international players taking time off after their performances during the summer at the World Cup, most if not all have had enough preseason friendlies to make them more than match fit for their respective opening day encounters. This further makes the midweek international friendlies merely running a gauntlet to make sure no serious injury is picked up by any player.
If the matches themselves were European Championship qualifiers then I believe that this wouldn’t be so much of an issue as they would be seen as competitive games. However, they aren’t, they are only friendlies, and in the overall scheme of international football, provide no real insight into a players performance as, with it being so early in the season, no one has managed to accumulate some level of form which would give any respective manager an insight into how the overall squad is fairing.
In regard specifically to England, after a very poor World Cup campaign the side will look to get their international reputation back on track when they play host to Hungary at Wembley on Wednesday. Manager Fabio Capello has vowed to give the younger generation coming through the ranks a chance to perform on the highest stage, which could turn out to be a blessing for some clubs with potentially many tops naming beginning the game on the bench or may even not be in the line up altogether.
If you thought playing the friendly itself was bad enough, England players will also have to contend with the notoriously hazardous Wembley pitch. Having been re-laid over 10 times, the most recent being a few weeks ago ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield, many players have found it difficult playing at England’s national stadium with even managers such as Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson deeming it only fit for ‘a horse show’.
One player who will be weary of the Wembley surface more than most is United striker Michael Owen. Owen was out for two and a half months last season after tearing his hamstring against Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final.
Scoring in the Red Devil’s recent friendly victory over Airtricity League XI has given the former Liverpool striker some confidence ahead of the start of the season and if he was to feature as part of Capello’s squad on Wednesday, Owen hopes he can put in a performance to show his worth to the national side without picking up any injuries in the process.
While many players, managers and fans alike question the need for an England friendly days before the Premier League gets underway, an argument can be made that the England side owe their country a performance after such a terrible display in South Africa during the summer. In addition the friendly is not something which has just sprung up on the players out of no where, it has been on the footballing calendar for a long time, giving these professionals plenty of time to plan their routine and training to make sure they are able to come through the game without too many issues.
World Cup captain Steven Gerrard endured very much a difficult summer with his national side, failing to create any real spark of his true potential throughout the whole tournament. The Liverpool captain was back playing in front of the Anfield faithful last night in a 2-0 victory over FK Rabotnicki, to secure safe passage through the third round qualifying stage of the Europa League.
Gerrard capped his performance with a goal from the penalty spot and we will wait to see if this early season performance can help create some momentum going into the Hungary game in midweek.
That is if Capello decides to pick Liverpool captain Gerrard, or decides to leave out many of his first string players, as he recently promised, and give many youngsters a chance to see what they can do in playing for their country.
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