What’s long, thin and cold? Chile, of course! (I will also accept ‘icicle’ as a valid answer.) The South Americans are in London this Friday for only their sixth ever meeting with England. Both sides have qualified for this summer’s World Cup and will be looking to extend a couple of decent undefeated runs here – England have gone 10 games without a loss whilst Chile can match that here if they avoid defeat at Wembley.
The last time the La Roja popped up on these shores, a good 15 years ago, the Three Lions rather had their pants pulled down by an absolute favourite of my childhood, Marcelo Salas, who scored this famous beauty in a 2-0 win.
Watch and listen as a commentator with terrible asthma sails dangerously close to the wind considering his clear heath problems.
That’s your history lesson over, so to this week’s team news. The big story here is that anyone who’s vaguely confident about their place on the plane to Brazil at the moment has used the international break to get good and fit for their club sides - the oldest trick in the book.
Captain Stevie G, Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert have all dropped out of the Chile game with various minor knacks, whilst Daniel Sturridge is a major doubt with a foot problem. Kyle Walker is officially out with an ‘unspecified injury’ according to the BBC which smells fishier than Captain Birdeye’s under-crackers if you ask me.
Jack Wilshere, a lad who seemingly has a smidge to prove (to Wenger rather than Hodgson) at the moment is sticking around in a bid to get fit and could well partner Frank Lampard and debutant Adam Lallana in a new look midfield. Incidentally the Chelsea stalwart will captain the side in Gerrard’s absence and be awarded with a lovely golden cap to mark his 100+ appearances for his country. Aww.
Despite the high number of drop outs no replacements have been called up by Hodgson. Don't be surprised to see Gary Neville stripping off in the second half if any more players succumb to any ailments.
Due to a number of superhuman performances against Barcelona in recent years, Celtic's Fraser Forster will get his debut in nets whilst John Ruddy is expected to get a second half run out at some point.
Hodgson has confirmed he’ll use the game to experiment ahead of the World Cup – with players and formations I assume, rather than any mind-altering substances. That said, I wouldn't mind seeing Roy, pie eyed, defending his decision to attempt to replace Adam Lallana with a bottle of Powerade after seven minutes because the corner flag told him so.
What that means in real terms, however, is anyone’s guess. Glenn Johnson’s return to fitness and form is a plus, whilst Chris Smalling has actually impressed at right back in recent weeks for Manchester United so there’s a decision to make there. Will Hodgson break up the solid if unspectacular Cahill/Jagielka axis of hoofy clearances and reward Phil Jones for his recent good form, or perhaps he’ll try the defensive gargoyle in midfield again? And what of Ross Barkley?! My mind’s on the very verge of collapse just trying to even comprehend the possibilities and combinations. That’s before even beginning to factor in James Milner’s brain frying versatility. Struth. There are even rumblings that Kieran Gibbs (considerably the youngest and least musically gifted of the Bee Gees) might even get a run out, his first for three years.
One thing’s for sure though - with Sturridge a doubt, Lambert and Welbeck out and Defoe sadly very much still Jermaine Defoe – Wayne Rooney should slot back in to the No.9 shirt, flanked by Jay Rodriguez and Andros Townsend.
Scores of new and unknown faces, heaps of raw and undefined potential. Crumps, is this the most exciting England squad in a decade? Or will we be crying in a few months for the halcyon days when solid, familiar names like Upson, Barry and Heskey were unmoveable barnacles on the Three Lions squad sheets. Time will tell.
A brief word on Chile then – they’re pretty good. Currently ranked two places behind England in 12th in FIFA’s rankings their last three friendlies include two, 2-2 away draws against Brazil and Spain, whilst they absolutely pumped Iraq 0-6 back in August.
Crucially for Enlgand, Chile’s key man, Arturo Vidal, of Juventus has been sent home to Turin after picking up a thigh twang last weekend. That said this side is not short of talent - Gary Medel of Cardiff is an A-grade bruiser whilst Mauricio Isla of Juventus, Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona and Eduardo Vargas – contracted to Napoli – are all hugely talented players with pedigree at major European clubs.
Current Nottingham Forrest legend, Gonzalo Jara, has been somewhat of an ever-present in the last few years, however, so there is the odd chink in their armour.
Score Predictions - A huge amount depends on how much each side pisses around with subs in the second half. I reckon we'll see a competitive first half followed by a second that fizzles out towards the end. 1-1 with Wilshere to bag if you ask me.