With England beset by injuries, Egypt are 8/1 to spring a surprise at Wembley

England v Egypt, International Friendly, March 3, 2010

England 2/5; Draw 9/2; Egypt 8/1

A match that should have been about homing the Three Lions’ capabilities ahead of the upcoming World Cup this summer has been hijacked by a series of smutty tabloid stories.

On the eve of England’s friendly with Egypt – the North Africans supposedly being a test match ahead of the meeting with neighbours Algeria in South Africa – the focus of the backpages had centred on the withdrawal of Wayne Bridge from the international scene, and the knock-on affect on former national team captain John Terry.

The side-show has arguably been a slight godsend for manager Fabio Capello, who has managed to avoid a whole host of uncomfortable questions about the make-up of his wafer-thin squad, as after qualificying for the World Cup with flying colours, all of a sudden the wheels appear to be falling off the England bandwagon.

The list of absentees is long. Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are all long-term injury doubts at the back. Aaron Lennon, Owen Hargreaves are missing from the midfield, while up top doubts surround the fitness of Wayne Rooney after the Manchester United striker complained of a knee injury following the Carling Cup final.

The lack of depth in England’s set-up is however most serious at the back. (England are EVS to keep a clean sheet, 10/11 against.) Even before the injuries took hold, Capello was facing a difficult decision of selecting which goalkeeper to back in South Africa. At 39-years-old and having missed much of the season at Portsmouth with injury, David James appears to be the back-up, rather than the reliable first-choice custodian, whom Il Capo will rely on in the summer. With James now on the periphery, Birmingham’s Joe Hart and West Ham’s Rob Green are being thumbed over as the two main candidates for the number one slot. But considering neither keeper has much in the way of international experience, doubts will linger over the goalie slot for some time to come.

Regarding England’s decimated rearguard, it still needs to be decided whether Leighton Baines, Stephen Warnock or Gareth Barry will plug the gap at left-back, while Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Ryan Shawcross are all vying to prove their worth at the heart of the English defence. Lastly, Wes Brown will fill in at right-back.

Further forward, England will look to stand-in captain Steven Gerrard, along with seasoned internationals Frank Lampard, Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe and the nation’s true world class superstar, Wayne Rooney, to form the attacking unit that will lead to the morale-boosting defeat of the Pharaohs. (England are 11/10 to score in both halves.) That leaves doubts over the likes of Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, David Beckham and Carlton Cole to prove that they are worthy for a place in Capello’s squad come June. (England are 2/1 to win both halves.)

Egypt arrive in London fresh from their historic African Cup of Nations victory in Angola, which confirmed the Pharaohs as the first team in the tournament’s history to win three back-to-back competitions. Sadly, the Egyptians though failed to reach football’s main stage, having been knocked out by Algeria in a thrilling play-off, and doubts therefore remain over the hunger and desire the visitors will show when the arrive at a cold and probably wet Wembley on Wednesday night.

Egypt dazzled in Angola at the start of the year, despite playing without influential playmaker Mohamed Abu Treika and experienced strikers Amr Zaki of Hull City and West Ham’s Mido. Abu Treika, considered one of Egypt’s best players of all-time, has been included in the squad for the England game despite just returning to action following a long-term foot injury. Zaki meanwhile, who has recently shaken off a hamstring injury, is also in the squad. (Egypt are 13/2 to score in both halves.)

Yet, reducing Egypt to their individual parts is to do the north Africans a disservice as, as they proved at the African Nations Cup, their nation’s strength stems from the teamwork and tactical nous of the collective rather than the ability of any specific player. (Egypt are 39/1 to win both halves.)

Certain players though do deserve specific shout-outs ahead of kick-off.

Ahmed Hassan will make his 173rd appearance for the national team, having broken Hossam Hassan’s record for Egyptian international appearances. The 35-year-old central midfielder needs just five more appearances to become the world’s most capped international of all-time. And Hassan is worthy of his caps regardless of his age having been one of his team’s star performers at CAN 2010.

Further forward, Mohamed Nagy Gedo is quickly becoming a crowd favorite for all Egyptians with his stunning efficiency in front of goal. Gedo has bagged a remarkable six goals in eight appearances for the national team, having scooped the top scorer award in Angola with five goals all from the subs bench, and his burgeoning reputation is increasing the pressure on leading goal-getters Emad Metab and Mohamed Zidan.

The last time these two team met it was at the 1990 World Cup when a lone header from defender Mark Wright from a Gazza free-kick sealed the Three Lions qualification to the next round. Dependent on the attitude of the Pharaohs, another tight contest could be in store this week too. (21/20 to be under 2.5 goals, 20/21 to be over.)

101gg predicts: England 2 – Egypt 1 (17/2)

England 2/5; Draw 9/2; Egypt 8/1

Full match odds here.