LONDON: Ashley Cole could hardly wish for a grander stage – outside the World Cup – on which to celebrate tomorrow becoming the seventh England player to reach 100 international caps.
England manager Roy Hodgson has confirmed that the Chelsea leftback, though second-choice lately to Everton’s Leighton Baines, will start tonight’s prestige Wembley friendly against five-times former world champions Brazil.
The match is the high-visibility active kickoff to the 150th anniversary celebration year of the Football Association, the original national federation for the organised game.
Tonight’s 24th meeting between the nations is also significant for Brazil: it is the first match back in charge for Luiz Felipe Scolari, the one-time Chelsea boss who has been handed the onerous task of trying to steer the next World Cup hosts to glory on home soil next year.
Scolari has answered public and media clamour in Brazil to recall Ronaldinho, a veteran of his World Cup-winning team in 2002. But the wonderfully talented Atletico Mineiro fantasist risks finding the pace of modern international football a tough ask.
He will, at least, have South American Footballer of the Year Neymar to share the attacking weight.
As for Cole, the 32-year-old made his national team debut in March 2001 against Albania. Hodgson said: “Ashley will definitely start the game then I’ll have to see what to do with Leighton [Baines], who has been doing very well.”
There were suggestions Cole may lead the team out against Brazil instead of regular captain Gerrard but Hodgson ruled out such a prospect.
Gerrard won his 100th cap in a friendly against Sweden last November and he and Cole will be presented with their caps at Wembley.
Hodgson said: “I don’t see any reason why the captain should let anyone else lead the team out. Ashley does his talking and work on the field and I don’t think he’s ever pushed himself forward during his 100 appearances as a potential captain of the team.
“I think he’s just very happy to be a key player in the team so I’m pretty certain he won’t be trying to rip the armband off Steven. ”
The game against Brazil is a warm-up for England’s two World Cup qualifiers next month against San Marino and Montenegro.
Hodgson added: “Experiment is not a word I really want to use. We’re taking the game too seriously for me to even entertain the word experiment but, on the other hand, it is a friendly match. For us it’s another important step along the way.
“We think it’s a great way to start 2013 and our 150th anniversary, and we’ll be doing our best to play well and get a good result, but finally for me it’s a question of knowing by March what our best team is and what players play best together.”
Strikers Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge pulling out of the squad at the weekend because of ankle and thigh injuries while midfielder Michael Carrick (hip) is also missing. Theo Walcott could thus be used up front rather than in his usual England role on the right wing.
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