France’s Franck Ribery during a training session, in Le Havre, on Tuesday. France take on Uruguay in a friendly, on Wednesday. (AFP)
London: Arsenal winger Theo Walcott has pulled out of the England squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Italy with a bruised thigh, the Football Association have confirmed.
The match is one of 50-odd friendlies around the world, which will see debuts for several coaches including the charismatic Louis van Gaal with the Netherlands, the dour Fabio Capello of Russia and the perfectionist Didier Deschamps with France.
Germany’s hosting of a much-improved Argentina and Mexico home game with the US should provide the highlights on a date loathed by European clubs because the internationals are played before many domestic seasons have even started.
World and European champions Spain visit Puerto Rico, a team 137 places below them in the Fifa rankings and whose only four previous matches this year have all been against Nicaragua.
Shifting our focus back to Walcott’s injury, the striker reported for duty on Monday with a slight thigh problem, which has not eased sufficiently for England manager Roy Hodgson to think it worthwhile for the player to make the journey to Switzerland.
A statement on the FA website read: “Walcott reported with a slightly bruised thigh and was unable to train fully, so has returned to his club as a precaution.”
The 23-year-old became the fourth player to pull out of the squad after his Arsenal colleague Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, keeper Joe Hart and striker Daniel Sturridge also dropped out.
The injuries mean England’s squad have been trimmed down to 19, with uncapped duo John Ruddy and Jack Butland the only remaining goalkeepers.
Should Butland be picked in the starting XI, it would cap an unbelievable few months for the 19-year-old who has never played a senior match above League Two. He will become England’s youngest goalkeeper in friendly against Italy in Berne.
Injury problems have also struck Italy as striker Mario Balotelli has been forced to miss the match with an eye infection.
But coach Cesare Prandelli sees the friendly against England as an ideal testing ground for young players ahead of the World Cup qualifiers, naming 11 uncapped players in the squad.
Germany coach Joachim Loew will also use the friendly to assess his side’s strength in depth before starting their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup.
Established internationals including Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez and captain Philipp Lahm will all miss the match in Frankfurt, as will Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker, allowing Loew a rare opportunity to experiment against an opponent at full strength and featuring Lionel Messi.
Argentina hope to avenge their heaviest defeat to Germany in the sides’ last meeting — a 0-4 loss at the 2010 World Cup.
Coach Alejandro Sabella has the enviable problem of deciding who would best partner his captain up front - Sergio Aguero or Gonzalo Higuain.
Sabella’s other dilemma is whether to start Marcos Rojo or Clemente Rodríguez at left back.
He called up Newcastle United defender Fabricio Coloccini for the first time and the 57-year-old coach readily admits he needs to give more thought to his defense.
Moving to another match, Sweden are planning a festive farewell to the Rasunda stadium when they host Brazil although the visitors are unlikely to be in the mood for fun only four days after losing the Olympic Games final.
The Swedish FA have invited Pele and other members of the Brazil team that beat Sweden 5-2 in the 1958 World Cup final at the Rasunda for the last match to be played at the stadium before it is demolished to make way for a new arena.
Brazil coach Mano Menezes, however, is likely to be more worried about his own future than past glories after failing to end their wait for an Olympic gold medal.