England’s final preparations for UEFA Euro 2012 will take place at Wembley this coming Saturday afternoon in the shape of a friendly match against Belgium. The game presents plenty of talking points, one of which is the testing of goal-line technology by the makers of Hawk-Eye.
Another is the intriguing nature of England’s opponents in this warm-up match. Temporarily led by caretaker coach Marc Wilmots, the Belgians are highly rated and considered by many pundits to be a burgeoning force for the future. Like Switzerland, Belgium’s young players are hot properties in European football. And, like Switzerland, they failed to qualify for the European Championships. But despite the valid argument that the Swiss players are being brought through in a more strategic way, Belgium are no pushover.
On Saturday they face an England side that will be different to the one that defeated Norway last weekend. Joe Hart will be the goalkeeper in a new back five, with Chelsea trio Ashley Cole, John Terry and Gary Cahill potentially all taking their places in the defence. They also now face competition from Phil Jagielka, the Everton defender who replaced Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry after he pulled out with a muscle tear.
The major question mark over the squad at present is the fitness of Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, who has sustained a thigh injury and faces the proverbial “race against time” to be fit for the Euros. Jordan Henderson is on standby and Michael Carrick is not. Unlucky, Michael.
Belgium, who were losing finalists at the UEFA European Championships in 1980 but haven’t qualified for a tournament they didn’t host since 1984, have plenty of eye-catching names available on Saturday. Premier League supporters will be familiar with Simon Mignolet, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele and Romelu Lukaku, and will be especially keen to cast a final eye over Lille’s imperious Eden Hazard before he makes the move to Chelsea.
Seven of the Belgium squad play their club football domestically, while there are recognisable players from all over Europe. Daniel van Buyten of Bayern Munich is the team’s most capped player, and Jan Vertonghen, Timmy Simons, Axel Witsel and Stephen Defour all now play for major European clubs outside the Kingdom.
Lampard has already welcomed Chelsea’s signing of Hazard. From The Independent:
“It is very exciting to hear the news. I haven’t seen so much of the French football but everyone I speak to says he is a very top player, a very top young player. If he can bring that youth and hunger and ability into our team, then he’ll be very welcome.”
A “very top young player” – you heard it here first.
One-time England captain Scott Parker has spoken of his eagerness to get over to Poland and Ukraine for what he acknowledges is his one and only chance to make a mark on an international tournament, according to quotes reported by London24:
“As a player I’m not going to the European Championship with the mindset that it’s all right if we perform reasonably well – and I’m quite sure I can say the same for the other players. We are going to the tournament to try and win it. I will be 33 when the World Cup comes around [in 2014] and this may be my first and only chance of winning something with England.”
Despite being available for Belgium, Vermaelen’s fitness remains a question according to Sky Sports News via Goal.com:
“I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now with my groin. Of course, it’s a friendly game, but it’s a big game for us against England at Wembley. Everybody wants to play in that game and I’m doing everything to get fit to play in that game. I think everybody watches a lot of the English games in the national team so I’m not worried. Everybody knows the players from England and everybody knows the quality, so it’s not a big problem.”
According to the Shields Gazette one Premier League player who is likely to play at Wembley on Saturday is Mignolet, the Sunderland goalkeeper. Wilmots seems confident enough to use him – for now:
“I have three excellent goalkeepers. All three work hard and have had a fantastic season so far. We’ve got a luxury problem, with three goalkeepers, who have great respect for each other too. I have no hierarchy to the goalkeepers. After these two friendlies and the holidays we’ll see who will be number one.”
I’m fortunate enough to be going to Wembley on Saturday with Umbro – in the posh seats, no less – so quite frankly the score is less important this weekend than tiny pies. But what say you, another England win?
(Photo credit: spiffy0777 via Flickr)