By Chris Myson
After an England team minus a number of key stars earned a 1-0 victory over world and European champions Spain at the weekend, optimism has suddenly returned for the nation’s fans as the final run until Euro 2012 begins.
Fabio Capello said he would use the home double-header of friendlies to experiment and, true to his word, he made changes against the Spaniards and has revealed there will be eight more alterations to his side for the match with Sweden.
The pressure is on the Italian to keep the feel-good factor surrounding the camp going for a bit longer on Tuesday night by following up the surprise triumph with another victory and a more attacking, free-flowing performance.
However, the fixture is also crucial in the bigger picture as the scramble for a place on the plane to next summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine intensifies.
For some players, the Sweden game will be the only opportunity they get in a Three Lions shirt to prove they are worthy of a place in either Capello’s first XI or travelling party for an event some enthusiastic observers now believe England have a fighting chance of winning after the Spain result.
Previewing the game at Wembley, Goal.com highlights five England players who go into the clash against the Swedes with a big point to prove to their manager.
John Terry will captain England against Sweden, but the defender finds himself under extreme pressure both on and off the pitch going into the game.
The pre-match press conference saw the Chelsea icon bombarded with questions on whether he was in the right frame of mind as the row over his alleged racist comments to Anton Ferdinand continues, with FA investigations ongoing.
But even without that saga, which could still have negative repercussions for his international career, Terry is under threat on a footballing level too. The centre-back has been struggling of late, most notably during the Blues’ 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal, with questions being raised over whether he and Rio Ferdinand’s perceived decline means they should still be automatic picks for their country.
The 30-year-old, who has been capped 71 times, could only watch from the sidelines during the Spain game as Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott turned in tremendous displays, while his defensive partner against Sweden – Gary Cahill – has impressed of late at international level and is another rival for a starting spot.
An authoritative and composed display at the back in a winning effort could ease the pressure on Terry, but a lacklustre performance or unconvincing result would extend an already uncomfortable couple of weeks.
Already aged 30, Fulham striker Bobby Zamora has left it late in his career to make his first England start.
After finally forcing his way into Capello’s plans once an Achilles injury had already ruined his hopes of making the World Cup squad, the former Tottenham frontman suffered a broken leg which kept him out for most of last season.
Following a steady start to the new campaign, in which he has scored five times, Zamora finds himself back in the fold at a crucial period, with the England boss analysing a number of his attacking options due to star man Wayne Rooney’s suspension for the first three games of Euro 2012.
Zamora’s style, and his good aerial ability and strong hold-up play, could make him an option to lead the line on his own, with support coming from two wide players and a central attacking midfielder operating behind – a system Capello now seems to be settled on.
With only 45 minutes of international experience to his name so far, though, the powerful striker needs to make the most of his starting berth against Sweden or he is likely to find himself back out in the cold during the all-important months leading up to Poland and Ukraine.
It was a proud moment for Kyle Walker on Saturday when he came off the substitutes’ bench to make his full international debut in the victory over Spain.
Walker had an excellent under-21 tournament in the summer and has been very impressive for Tottenham in the early stages of this season, resulting in the reward of his first cap and now this opportunity to shine.
While there are still many positions in the England team and overall squad that are far from sewn up ahead of Euro 2012, arguably the most open role is the right-back spot.
Glen Johnson is the most experienced member of the squad playing in that role and he made his return to the side against the Spaniards, putting in a decent performance. However, doubts still remain over his defensive capabilities.
But with pressure also coming from emerging star Phil Jones and with the likes of Micah Richards and Chris Smalling not even in the squad, Walker’s display against Sweden could see the Spurs defender catapulted up to first choice for the position or straight back down the pecking order when the next squad is announced, so there is everything to play for.
Leighton Baines’ performances at club level for Everton continue to enhance his reputation but at 26, the left-back is yet to cement a reputation as an international-class defender.
The quality of Ashley Cole means that chances for others in his position are few and far between in competitive games and possibly explains why Baines has only accumulated five caps in his career so far.
The ex-Wigan Athletic man appears to have established himself as the No.2 option in the position – ahead of Stephen Warnock – but that also looked like it was the case before the World Cup in South Africa, when he ultimately missed out on selection to the Aston Villa stopper.
Therefore, the pressure is on to produce a good showing against Sweden, which could be one of his only chances to impress before the tournament and book his place in the summer’s squad as back-up to Cole.
A player who is capable both in his defensive duties and contributing going forward with his crossing and set-piece prowess, Capello will be watching closely to see if Baines can replicate his current form at international level and make the most of a rare chance to shine.
Daniel Sturridge has had an impressive 12 months, ending last season in fine form on-loan at Bolton Wanderers before starring in pre-season for Chelsea, which led to him staying at Stamford Bridge and playing a key part in their Premier League campaign to date.
Capello had announced that the forward would be starting the game at Sweden, but then withdrew that at the press conference, saying the starlet would now begin the game on the bench.
That snub will come as a blow to the ex-Manchester City striker, who played no part against Spain and will now have to make the biggest impression he can in what will be a limited amount of time.
A first cap will still be a night to remember for Sturridge after he moved up through the youth ranks having played for England at every junior level from the under-16s to the under-21s.
While a long international career looks likely, though, if he wants to add to that tally in the upcoming games after Tuesday night, Sturridge will have to make a cameo appearance that makes it impossible for Capello to ignore him any longer.
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