Raheem Sterling is not the youngest debutant to play for England and Leon Osman is not the oldest but this is the only time two players separated by 14 years will win their first caps together. Sterling, a boy who plays like a man, and Osman, a man who plays like a boy, might be at the opposite ends of their careers but they will have one thing in common in Stockholm on Wednesday night. Try telling them it is a meaningless fixture.
This game was always going to invite controversy, given that Premier League managers do not generally take kindly to players being whisked away for a midweek friendly on a freezing November night in Sweden. At least with the August friendly, unpopular as it is, there is a competitive fixture to prepare for in September, whereas England's next World Cup qualifier is not until March. So the complaints from Arsène Wenger and others were to be expected.
Roy Hodgson, however, has chosen the sort of experimental team that helps explain why the Football Association did not want to leave this week blank. England's manager does not get many opportunities to assess, close-up, some of the players he has brought to Sweden for the opening of the Friends Arena. Sterling, at 17, could be a part of the England set-up for the next 15 years. Osman, 31, does not have that luxury but England should never consider themselves top-heavy with midfielders who like to keep the ball and have an eye for the pass. For Hodgson, trying to get an accurate gauge of who might get this team to the World Cup and who might not, there is no such thing as a meaningless England game.
Steven Caulker will hardly consider this is a pointless occasion either, after Hodgson brought his players together on Tuesday evening to announce a team in which the Tottenham Hotspur defender will be the third debutant.
Hodgson requires another centre-half now that John Terry is out of the equation and Caulker has done well for Tottenham after returning from his season-long loan at Swansea City. His elevation indicates he is probably now the official fourth-choice behind Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka.
It represents a night of fact-finding for Hodgson, particularly with Wilfried Zaha and Carl Jenkinson also hoping for their debuts in the inevitable blitz of second-half substitutions. Hodgson plans to make half a dozen changes, including a short run-out for Jack Wilshere, and Zaha will almost certainly be one of them, if only because the manager wants to see for himself what all the fuss is about. "I don't know what to expect, to be perfectly honest," Hodgson said of the Crystal Palace player. "I would think he's on the radar of virtually every Premier League club. But It would be wrong of me, after one training session, to say: 'Yes, this is a superstar in the making.'" It was a roundabout way of saying he had hardly ever seen him in action.
That is the point of arranging a match in what is, after all, an established date in the international calendar. The problem for Hodgson is that it inevitably means far more withdrawals than usual. Tottenham, for example, reported injuries for Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon that were not evident during their game at Manchester City on Sunday and it will be interesting to see if they feature against Arsenal on Saturday. Hodgson has been left with a squad that, between everyone, has only 13 Premier League goals this season. None of the nine leading English scorers is involved.
He does, however, have several players with points to prove. Daniel Welbeck, who will spearhead the attack, has to be frustrated about his lack of first-team opportunities at Manchester United now the club have signed Robin van Persie. Tom Cleverley must see a chance to establish himself as one of Hodgson's mandatory first-team picks, and Ashley Young needs to improve on his recent England performances. Young was the stand-out player when Hodgson took over before Euro 2012 but he had a bad tournament and needs to shake it out of his system. Steven Gerrard, winning his 100th cap, will want to make the game feel like a real contest.
As for the debutants, Sterling has shown nothing at Liverpool to suggest he might be overawed in any way. The same goes for Osman, who has seemed relaxed and perfectly at ease with his surroundings since joining the squad at the weekend. He will be deployed in exactly the same role he fills for Everton and, with a friendly to come against Brazil in February, the potential rewards of a good performance are considerable. Alternatively, a disappointing night would almost certainly leave him stuck on one cap for good.
Sweden will certainly be up for it. Their new stadium, with a 50,000 capacity, has been nine years in the planning and, like Wembley, features a retractable roof. Sweden wanted high-profile opponents and England, in short, are the team they love to beat the most.