England coach Fabio Capello handed Everton defender Leighton Baines a surprise call-up to his squad for the friendly against Slovakia and 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against Ukraine. Capello also named Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster, Tottenham Hotspur defender Ledley King and his White Hart Lane team-mate Aaron Lennon in the 24-man squad.
Uncapped left-back Baines comes in for injured Manchester City star Wayne Bridge, who is the usual England deputy for Ashley Cole. The former Wigan player has been watched several times by Capello and scored a superb free-kick in the 21 March defeat at Portsmouth to finally claim his first goal for Everton since joining the club two seasons ago.
King's presence in the squad for the first time under Capello was also a surprise given that the Tottenham centre-back is rarely able to train due to a long-term knee injury. As expected, Foster, who has two caps, was called-up as reward for his man of the match display in Manchester United's League Cup final win over Tottenham earlier this month.
Tottenham winger Lennon, who won the last of his nine caps against Andorra two years ago, also impressed in the League Cup final and has produced several influential displays since, including yesterday's win over Chelsea. West Ham United forward Carlton Cole retains his place after making his debut in the friendly defeat against Spain in Seville last month, but there is no place for Aston Villa duo Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
With Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard back for the first time since the qualifying win in Belarus last October and Rio Ferdinand fit after missing the Seville reverse with a stomach bug, England should be at full strength against Slovakia at Wembley next weekend. But with the crucial qualifier against Ukraine, also at Wembley, looming just five days later, Capello has made no attempt to hide his intention to make full use of all six substitutes in the Slovakia match.
England's 24-man squad for the friendly against Slovakia on 28 March and 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against Ukraine on 1 April:
Goalkeepers: Ben Foster (Manchester United), David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham United)
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Ledley King (Tottenham Hotspur), Joleon Lescott (Everton), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham United)
Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), David Beckham (AC Milan/ITA), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)
Forwards: Carlton Cole (West Ham United), Peter Crouch (Portsmouth), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)