Stuart Pearce sets out his case for the full-time manager's job while inexperienced players see a chance to impress
The four-man Club England board are yet to contact individuals, or clubs, over the vacant England manager's position though to some extent Stuart Pearce will enjoy a high-profile audition of his own here. The interim coach has already been given the green light to tweak aspects of the team's preparations for Euro 2012, even pinpointing a potential training base for the squad in Spain ahead of the pre-tournament friendlies against Norway and Belgium. He would hope to travel with the senior setup to Poland even if he is overlooked for the top position. Regardless, this is his moment, the chance to send out his own England team. It is one he will relish and, should his team flourish, his reputation can only be enhanced.
The Manchester City player was marginalised under the previous regime, with Fabio Capello clearly unconvinced by his defensive capabilities. Yet, if Richards would have expected to earn a 13th cap at some stage given he was a favourite of Pearce's at club and Under-21 level, the withdrawal of Glen Johnson on Tuesday night suggests that is now a certainty. Pearce's admiration for the player is clear enough. "His form has been outstanding," the interim coach said. "It is not easy to keep your place in the City team with the money they have spent. He deserves to be here." Richards is, however, a player who needs to restore his reputation at this level after the frustrations under the Italian. Muster a performance of quality tonight and he could yet find reward with a place in the squad for the tournament.
Spain had been denied with Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka excelling at centre-half last November, so England can clearly show solidity without John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, yet this is likely to be a test of the next generation and of the strength in depth. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have rarely featured for Manchester United at centre-back, but see their futures in the middle. Gary Cahill, hardly a regular at Chelsea yet following his move from Bolton last month, will be tested at this level without Terry at his side. Some combination of those three will presumably start against the Dutch, with Richards another option if required in the centre. This will be an education.
It is 14 months since Steven Gerrard featured on this stage and the Liverpool midfielder, even with energy drained by 120 minutes of football in Sunday's Carling Cup final, is eager to return to the fold. His selection seems intertwined with the fate of the captaincy and it feels vaguely implausible that he might feature for up to an hour here and not wear the armband. Why risk unsettling him when Pearce, or his successor, may end up having to rely upon the 31-year-old in the summer when far more will be at stake? The hope is he will be fit and bursting with his trademark leggy energy, inspiring the youngsters around him in the process, for the time he plays on the pitch. His presence will be reassuring, regardless.
The onus will be on Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, the latter apparently so frustrated on the right of Chelsea's attacking trident, and even possibly Sunderland's Fraizer Campbell to prove they can lead the line for the national team in Poland and Ukraine, with this a high-profile occasion to display their pedigree. That none has a senior international goal to his name is worrying, but Welbeck and Sturridge, in particular, have long been mooted as this team's future. Impress against the Dutch and further opportunities will beckon. If not, then Peter Crouch, Bobby Zamora and Jermain Defoe, waiting in the wings, will feel there is still time to earn recalls. The credentials of Andy Carroll, too, may not be ignored for too much longer.