Predicting Fabio Capello's first choice goalkeeper when England line up against USA in Rustenburg on 12 June is proving as difficult a task as tipping the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ winners.
The battle for the coveted position between the posts looks set to go down to the wire, with all three contenders – David James, Joe Hart and Robert Green - having so far displayed impressive credentials. The next opportunity to impress comes against fellow FIFA World Cup participants Japan on Sunday, with Capello admitting to still being unsure about who will ultimately claim the accolade when England’s FIFA World Cup campaign gets under way.
Following an impressive first half display against Mexico at Wembley on Monday night, Green has certainly done his chances no harm. A fine save from Arsenal's young forward Carlos Vela, among others, merely served to highlight the West Ham United keeper's undoubted ability. And with Green fresh from a season dogged by the constant threat of relegation from the Premier League, you'll find few people better prepared for a fight.
Green will gratefully accept the plaudits he received following his 45-minute display against Mexico, but he is savvy enough to know that praise doesn't guarantee selection.
"To play well is encouraging," he told FIFA.com. "But I’m not going to read into anything or listen to what anybody says. You've just got to be prepared to play the next game. Our next game is on Sunday and I’ve just got to be prepared to play that. If I’m playing then great, if I’m not playing then I’ll be ready and that's all you can do. The opportunities are few and far between in international football, so I just want to be prepared to take each chance as it comes."
A three-way fight for the goalkeeping spot is certainly unusual at such a late stage of preparation, but Green admits it has meant all prospective candidates have been forced to up their game. He said: "I think it’s fairly unique. We’re pushing each other as much as we can, which is the most important thing. Whoever’s going to be playing has kept two guys out of the side. The other two are just going to have to encourage and support that guy, and I’m sure that’s what’s going to happen. You can only do as much as you can do."
The run-out against Javier Aguirre's Mexican side on Monday night was not as straightforward for England as the 3-1 scoreline might suggest. It was a tough evening, as the West Ham keeper readily admits, against a side who have lofty ambitions of their own in South Africa. However, as a chance to assess following England's bonding session in the Austrian hills, Green believes it served its purpose. "You want the team to win and we want to be well prepared. As a team, you want to be tested, so in that respect we were pushed. Mexico played well. They were playing their sixth game in a month, whereas it was our first game together with that starting 11, so to be tested like that was pleasing.”
England's Austrian training camp has not only provided a beautiful backdrop to their final preparations, but it has also afforded the squad a chance to work with the official FIFA World Cup Jabulani match balls at altitude, a skill they will need to master when they land on African soil. Green reported: "Different balls provide different problems and with the modern balls it’s just something you’ve got to deal with. It’s not really a problem, more something that you’ve got to manage and get prepared for. The more we train with them and the higher we go, the more we are prepared.
"We are going to have to see how it develops. In a match situation we are going to be a lot higher. Also, being in stadiums is very different to being in mountains in Austria, so everything is a little bit different. But, as problems go, it’s not the worst thing to happen in the world, so we’ve just got to deal with it.”