England coach Fabio Capello surprisingly named Manchester United's veteran defender Gary Neville in his 24-man squad for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ Group Six qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra on 6 June and 10 June respectively. Neville made the last of his 85 England appearances against Spain in 2007 and is no longer a regular first choice at his club after battling with injuries for the last two seasons. Be that as it may, he now has the opportunity to become the most-capped England full-back of all-time.
After spending more than two years battling injury since making his last appearance against Spain at Old Trafford, Neville might have considered his Three Lions days to be over. Even this term he has hardly been a regular at Manchester United and, although he did play at Hull City today, is only expected to be on the bench in Rome on 27 May when Sir Alex Ferguson's men take on Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final. But, just like his long-time friend David Beckham, Neville has been deemed worthy of a recall.
And, if he is picked for either match in next month's FIFA World Cup double-header against Kazakhstan and Andorra, he will equal Kenny Sansom's record for a full-back of 86 caps. Indeed, as Capello would not have picked Neville if he did not believe he could make a meaningful contribution beyond two matches England should win to take maximum points from their first seven matches in Group Six, the 34-year-old could well end up getting somewhere close to the century mark before he does eventually call a halt to his international career.
Neville will scrap it out with Glen Johnson, who missed Portsmouth's defeat at Wigan Athletic this afternoon with a minor hamstring strain, for the right to face Kazakhstan in Almaty. That Capello chose to draft in someone with so much experience suggests the time for untested rookies to be utilised before the FIFA World Cup finals themselves in South Africa next summer is drawing to a close.
Reservations over Matthew Upson's abilities in central defence may remain, but the West Ham player has still been picked ahead of Nedum Onuoha, who was tipped for a first call-up in many quarters. Manchester City are represented in the form of Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was supposed to have been ruled out with a knee injury, only for Blues manager Mark Hughes to discover the problem was not so bad after all.
All Capello's big-name outfield players have been picked, with Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole both recovered from the injuries suffered in the friendly win over Slovakia that subsequently kept them out of last month's victory against the Ukraine at Wembley. Jermain Defoe returns after a three-match absence, while Theo Walcott is fit for international duty after dislocating his shoulder in training prior to the friendly win over Germany in Berlin last November.
Changes in goal
It is the goalkeeping department where Capello has most to worry about, although even here he has gone for the tried and tested as first and second choices David James and Ben Foster have been ruled out with shoulder and thumb injuries respectively.
West Ham's Robert Green has emerged as first-choice despite winning just two caps, both as a second-half substitute in friendly matches. And with Joe Hart ruled out on form grounds after losing his place at Manchester City to Shay Given, Paul Robinson, who won the last of his 41 caps in the catastrophic European Championship defeat in Russia in October 2005, is recalled along with Scott Carson, who has just been relegated with West Brom.
The full England squad named for the matches against Kazakhstan and Andorra includes:
Wayne Bridge (Manchester City), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Joleon Lescott (Everton), Gary Neville (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham United)
Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), David Beckham (AC Milan), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Aston Villa)