England v Mexico, International Friendly, May 24, 2010
Wembley is likely to be full of jingoistic fervour on Monday night as England play their final home friendly before the eagerly anticipated World Cup. Fabio Capelloâ€™s side will fly in from their training camp in Austria and then return to face Japan six days later, but this is the final chance for Blighty to bid farewell to the players hoping to replicate the sole success of 1966.
All eyes will be on Don Fabio as he puts his charges through their paces. With the Italian still a week away from naming his final 23-man squad for South Africa, his choices and tactical tweaks will be under greater focus than ever before.
The first and arguably his most important choice is who to start in goal. Capello can select from Joe Hart, David James and Rob Green and whoever begins the match against Mexico will likely be considered first choice. In defence we can also expect Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and Jamie Carragher to be involved at some point to prove their fitness and form. If Ferdinand does start it will likely be his debut as captain of the Three Lions.
In midfield, Capelloâ€™s main dilemma concerns who will replace Gareth Barry. The Manchester City midfielder is still touch and go to be ready for the World Cup due to an ankle injury and the likes of Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker will be desperate to impress to secure their inclusion.
The early indications from the training camp in the Austrian Alps suggests the former AC Milan and Real Madrid boss prefers Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney to start furthest forward. It is debatable however whether he will start with many of his first choice players against El Tri, particularly on the much lamented Wembley pitch which after the FA Cup final came under fresh criticism from two England definites, John Terry and Frank Lampard.
Mexico boss Javier Aguirre will also be eager to use this friendly in the best possible preparation for the World Cup. They will need to hit the ground running as they face hosts South Africa in the tournament opener before facing France, which is presumably why they were eager to play England.
All eyes will be on striker Javier Hernandez who will join Manchester United in the summer. Mexico boast a number of fine attacking prospects well known to English football fans, including Carlos Vela, Giovani Dos Santos and Guillermo Franco. Arguably their key attacking player though is Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who along with Aguirre was key to their change in fortunes in the second half of their CONCACAF qualifying campaign.
Despite rescuing what looked to be a doomed qualification process led by Sven Goran Eriksson, Aguirre has been questioned for picking just five natural midfielders in his World Cup squad. Andres Guardado of Deportivo La Coruna is one of their most talented players and Barcelona pair Jonathan Dos Santos and Rafael Marquez could well be used at Wembley.
The Mexico backline has been in impressive form recently, keeping three successive clean sheets to record three 1-0 wins. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has the ability to truly announce himself on the world stage in the summer and the likes of Ricardo Osorio, Francisco RodrÃguez, Carlos Salcido and Hector Moreno have plenty of European experience.
Much to the chagrin of what is likely to be an expectant Wembley, this match will be no walk over for England. Both teams will be looking for balance, fluidity and goals but Mexico are well drilled and organised and the Three Lions will be experimenting. England should shade it but much of the focus will be on which player steps up and secures their place on the plane to South Africa.
101gg predicts: England 2 â€“ Mexico 1