“The Battle of Britain” re-commences at Wembley tonight for the first time since 1999, where in one of the last games played at the old stadium, Don Hutchinson’s strike was not enough to send Scotland through to EURO 2000 at England’s expense despite the 1-0 play-off victory for the Tartan Army.
In the 14 years since then, England have flattered to deceive at many a major tournament while that tie represents the closest Scotland have come to appearing at one since. Indeed, as the Three Lions use this clash as an indication of their potential before crucial World Cup qualifiers that will determine whether Roy Hodgson’s men will be in Brazil this summer, Scotland’s World Cup dream died many months ago, leaving tonight’s match as an attempt to bring pride and momentum to the national team under new boss Gordon Strachan.
Coming just three days before the start of the new Premier League season, Hodgson is sure to be under pressure to adhere to the wishes of the big clubs on his more prominent players.
However, both Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere both look set to start. The former has been absent from almost the entirety of Manchester United’s pre-season as speculation grows about his future and despite claims from his club of a shoulder injury, will lead the line for England. Wilshere on the other hand is fully-fit, but may not be risked for the entire 90 minutes with club boss Arsene Wenger keen to protect the midfielder after his battle with injury over the last two seasons.
Elsewhere, Ashley Young’s withdrawal from the squad with an ankle problem opens the door for either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Wilfried Zaha to start while it remains to be seen whether Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, given his first international call-up at the age of 31, will play some part in proceedings.
For the Scots, boss Strachan has admitted he is unsure which XI he will select, though he has confirmed Celtic midfielder Scott Brown will act as the team’s captain in the absence of nominal skippers Darren Fletcher and Gary Caldwell. Star striker Steven Fletcher is also still sidelined while highly-rated Brighton midfielder Liam Bridcutt also missing.
“It is going to be a great occasion taking the lads out at Wembley,” said acting-captain Brown.
“It is going to be huge, it is definitely right up there, even bigger than taking Celtic out for the last-16 of the Champions League.
“It is going to be hard, high-tempo and a great occasion for the fans as well and I’m sure the Tartan Army will be there in their thousands.
“I think there is a lot more pressure on them to beat us. We are the underdogs. But we have got great players and match winners as well, so we are all looking forward to it.”
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