England have made a distinctly average start to their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup and coach Roy Hodgson is likely to take their friendly away to Sweden on Wednesday (7.30pm GMT, live on ITV1) as an opportunity to experiment with some new personnel.
England do currently top their qualification group but second placed Montenegro are all but certain to leapfrog them with a game in hand at home to San Marino this week. Poland have also played one less match than England and are just three points back.
Comfortable victories against Moldova and San Marino have been coupled with 1-1 draws at home to Ukraine and away to Poland. The latter result was not particularly surprising, but England were expected to win the former. With away trips to Montenegro and the Ukraine to come, Hodgson needs to inject additional drive and impetus into his squad.
Wednesday’s match is his first opportunity to do that and his squad selection indicates he is keen to integrate some younger players. The likes of Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha (20 years old) – the first non-Premier League player to receive a call-up since Jay Bothroyd in 2010 – Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson (20), Tottenham centre-back Steven Caulker (20) and Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling (17) will all be hoping for a chance to impress.
Zaha and Jenkinson were brought into the squad following a wrath of pullouts from those originally selected. Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Jonjo Shelvey, Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon were all ruled out after picking up knocks in club action. Jermain Defoe and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, two Hodgson had hoped would replace the injured players, were also deemed unfit to join up with the squad.
As well as putting trust in youth, Hodgson has also given a long-overdue call-up to Everton’s Leon Osman (31), a neat, associative midfielder who is a consistent performer at club level and has been somewhat unjustly overlooked by previous England managers. How much of a role, at 33, he is likely to have at the 2014 World Cup – should England qualify – is open to debate, however.
Only four of the remaining squad members have more than 20 caps to their name, so there should be a refreshing look to the England eleven on Wednesday, even if Hodgson can be expected to line them up in either a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation as he has in the four World Cup qualifiers to date.
Sweden are second in their qualifying group, just three points shy of Germany with a game in hand on the group leaders. They came back from four goals down to secure a point in a thrilling 4-4 draw away to the Germans in their last qualifier, and appear confident of securing one of the top two spots in a group that also features the Republic of Ireland.
Coach Erik Hamren has made few changes to his squad for the visit of England, calling on many of the same players involved in recent competitive matches. He has no uncapped players in his squad, but has called on the Malmo pair Pontus Jansson (21 years old) and Jiloan Hamad (22), with just five caps to their collective credit, and Ajax midfielder Tobias Sana (23), hoping for a second appearance in the Swedish yellow.
Forwards Johan Elmander and Ola Toivonen are both missing through injury, but Hamren’s attack will still be led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has scored two and assisted two in their three World Cup qualifiers to date. Ibrahimovic is given license to drop back into a number ten role to help in the creation of play, causing Sweden’s formation to vacillate between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 depending on his positioning.
Fulham winger Alexander Kacaniklic came off the bench to provide a goal and an assist in Sweden’s most recent couple of qualifiers and will be hopeful of getting a chance to start on Wednesday after continuing a similarly impressive start to his club season with a goal in Fulham’s 3-3 draw away to Arsenal at the weekend.
Sweden v England Betting Tips Verdict
England ran out 3-2 winners when these two sides met in the group phase of Euro 2012, but their squad for this friendly is much changed from that outing. Nine of Sweden’s starting eleven from June are also in the squad for Wednesday’s match, whereas England’s displays just five carryovers from that encounter.
It will be an inexperienced England team that takes to the field on Wednesday. Sweden are better acquainted and have some dangerous players in attacking areas, factors that should be enough to tip the balance in their favour.