Cole to win 100th England cap
Ashley Cole is set to become the latest member of England’s 100-club next week - but there is likely to be more interest in Roy Hodgson’s midfield department when he names his squad to face Brazil tomorrow.
Cole will be the seventh player to reach the landmark providing he faces the Samba stars at Wembley next Wednesday, following on from Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright and Steven Gerrard, who reached the milestone in Sweden last November.
Notoriously reluctant to speak with the media, there is unlikely to be any great fanfare for the 32-year-old, beyond a possible picture, and Cole has long since accepted any admiration for his undoubted talents will be tempered by the distaste for some of his general behaviour.
However, even with Leighton Baines pushing hard, there is still no dispute of Cole’s status as England’s first-choice left-back, which is more than can be said for Hodgson’s midfield dilemma.
For the first time since he took the job last May, Hodgson has all his key midfielders available.
As skipper, Gerrard would be an automatic choice for England’s mouth-watering start to a year where they expect to include World Cup qualification.
But what Hodgson must do is select additional names from a group that also includes Frank Lampard, Scott Parker – who has not featured for his country since starting every game at Euro 2012 due to injury – Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere.
And that is without mentioning Leon Osman and Jonjo Shelvey, who have both made their debuts this season.
With an eye on the future, Wilshere is sure to be called up.
But Lampard, Parker and Carrick – who came out of the international wilderness at the start of last season following an intervention from Hodgson’s assistant Gary Neville – cannot be so certain and their shelf life at the highest level is limited.
For the first time this season, Hodgson also has the option of selecting Manchester United duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, whom the England manager signed from Maidstone when he was in charge of Fulham and made reference to last summer as one of the men England missed at Euro 2012.
In addition to a glittering start to the Football Association’s 150th anniversary year, Brazil’s first visit to Wembley since June 2007 is also preparation for the crucial World Cup qualifying double-header against San Marino and Montenegro in March.
However, any meeting with Brazil is always special and with Ronaldinho and Neymar amongst the star names in Luis Felipe Scolari’s squad, a capacity crowd can be guaranteed plenty of thrills.
What they may not get is a repeat of John Barnes’ wonder-goal in the Maracana 29 years ago, even if the man himself cannot remember too much about it.
“Of course, I have seen it since, so I know I did,” said Barnes. “But I can’t recall actually doing it, beyond getting the ball off Mark Hateley and starting to dribble.
“I knew it must have been a good goal because I had dribbled the ball a long way. But I can’t remember the specifics of it.”
Two years later, England were knocked out of the World Cup by Diego Maradona’s ’Hand of God’ before reaching the semi-finals four years after that.
The Three Lions have gone no closer since and whilst Hodgson has spoken optimistically about what lies ahead, Barnes is urging caution.
“England have the potential to win things but it is very difficult because everyone wants to win a trophy,” he said.
“If you play Brazil or Spain, the chances are you will lose.
“To me, getting knocked out in the semis or quarter-finals is maximising the potential of the England team.
“I don’t buy into this talk that we should have won something. If you say who should win a World Cup – and look at the best team – England haven’t been it, so why should they win?
“The most significant thing for me is that this is a new England. The last England team, with Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Ferdinand was the best for a long while.
“This one has lots of young, inexperienced players and it is going to be a while before they are able to realise their potential.
“I wouldn’t want to put too much expectation on England winning this World Cup or doing well in it.
“But if these young players can stay together for the following one, when they are 26, 27 or 28-year-olds and playing for Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, then you can look to them.”