Steven Gerrard has been passed fit for Wednesday’s friendly against Sweden after a precautionary scan on his knee proved to be ok. The England captain is now set to become only the sixth Englishman to win 100 caps, joining the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Billy Wright, David Beckham and Peter Shilton as the only players to have reached the century mark.
The news will come as a relief to Three Lions boss, Roy Hodgson, whose squad has suffered the usual withdrawals for friendlies like this, which so far includes Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott.
Walcott’s absence is likely to persuade Hogdson to give Liverpool’s youngster, Raheem Sterling, a first cap. It would be an ideal opportunity for him to possibly start the game alongside his Club Captain Gerrard as the 17-year-old is already a player who Gerrard works well with at Anfield. He is also a player who would fit into the midfield comfortably and whose attacking instincts could seriously threaten Sweden. In selecting Sterling in the squad, as well as 20-year-old Wilfried Zaha of Championship leaders, Crystal Palace, the England manager has shownthat he is prepared to give youngsters their chance in the team.
Also likely to win his first cap, is Everton’s Leon Osman who fully deserves his first call up to international duty after many years of playing almost unheralded in the Premier League. He is one of three Evertonians in the squad, the others being defenders Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka.
History tells us that England have found it difficult to beat Sweden, winning 1-0 for the first time in 43 years in a friendly at Wembley a year ago before following that up with that memorable 3-2 win in the Group stages at Euro 2012 with goals coming from Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.
However, under new boss, Erik Hamren, Sweden will be a much tougher proposition than at Euro 2012 and played with great credit last month when drawing with Germany 4-4 in a World cup Qualifier in Berlin. They came from 4-0 down in that match proving that there is no shortage of pride, fight or goals within the team. Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in that game bringing his international tally to 35 goals in 85 games and is the favourite with to open the scoring on Wednesday night in Stockholm.
Sweden will be hungry to avenge that Euro 2012 defeat and should be in great heart as they play the opening game at the magnificent Friends Arena, the new home of the Swedish National Football team.
England manager Hodgson is still held in high regard in Sweden where he helped take the Swedish game to new heights in the late 1970s and 1980s. Hodgson managed Halmstads BK, IK Oddevold, Orebro SK and and Malmo. Their influence set up a period of unprecedented success for Swedish clubs and both men are still remembered with great affection. Indeed Hodgson guided Malmo FC to five Swedish Championships in a row, taking them into Europe each time. As an honour paid to him, part of the new Malmo FC stadium has been officially christened as “Roy’s Corner”.
Of course there will be no affection shown until the final whistle on Wednesday evening, where Hodgson will be hoping that he can maintain his so far unbeaten record (ignoring the penalty shoot out against Italy), in 11 matches in charge of the national team. He knows it will be a tough assignment however with Sweden arguably having far more to play for and as such, the home side are the 6/4 favourites to win the game with England a 15/8 chance and the draw priced around 9/4.
The game is probably not the most important that England will ever play and will be looked upon as a major distraction by Premier League managers but it’s a great opportunity for Hodgson to blood some new faces ahead of next years crucial World Cup qualifiers, which will determine whether or not the team heads to Brazil in 2014. Despite the experimental nature of the team selection, England should be good enough for a draw and that’s the tip for this one.