Raheem Sterling will be one of three England debutants to start against Sweden on Wednesday night, with Roy Hodgson convinced that the teenage Liverpool forward and Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha have committed their long-term allegiances to the national side.
Sterling has made only 10 Premier League starts but will become the country's third-youngest post-war player at 17 years and 342 days old – behind Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott – after impressing for the Merseyside club this term. He will be joined by Leon Osman, who in contrast will make his first appearance at the age of 31, and the Tottenham Hotspur centre-half Steven Caulker in the starting line-up at the Friends Arena. Hodgson hopes to blood Zaha and Carl Jenkinson at some stage, with the Football Association expecting to receive the Arsenal full-back's international clearance on Wednesday.
Jenkinson has represented Finland at junior level, and Sterling and Zaha are qualified to play for Jamaica and Ivory Coast having been born in Kingston and Abidjan respectively. The Palace player was contacted last week by Didier Drogba urging him to commit to the country he left when he was four. All three players could yet opt to turn their backs on England, with Wednesday evening's game a friendly, but Hodgson has spoken to the trio and is confident they have pledged their futures to their country of residence.
"It is very simple for me: to be asked to play for England is a major honour and a major feather in people's caps," said Hodgson. "I am not interested in people who are deciding whether England is where they want to be or whether they want to be somewhere else. I have spoken to Sterling and Zaha. Both have assured me that they have started with England and that's where they want to end up.
"I spoke to Zaha before he joined up and explained we were interested in him but only if he was interested in us. I automatically assume that, if someone played for the Under-19s and Under-21s, I would expect him to cycle here to make himself available to play for the senior team and to thank us for the opportunity.
"It seems fairly obvious to me you'd be happy to accept the call-up and that is where you want to play. Perhaps I am too simple. But he has told me that is what he wants to do."
The England manager, who will hand Steven Gerrard a 100th cap, had previously spoken to Jenkinson, whose mother is Finnish, and been assured by the Arsenal defender he sees his future with England. "I said to him he'd have more competition to play for us than if he played for Finland, so to be aware of that, but he said: 'No, I want to play for England,'" said Hodgson. "When people are called up I expect them to come running, get on a bicycle and cycle to the training session if they have to, then they shake hands with everyone and tell everyone how happy they are to be there.
"All this nonsense about players receiving phone calls and being enticed away; if they are going to be enticed away, they will be enticed away. But if representing our national team is not strong enough motivation for players, then they are not the right players for us."
Hodgson will bring Jack Wilshere off the bench in the second half to make his first England appearance since the 2-2 draw with Switzerland in the summer of 2011 and continue his reintegration into the senior teams for club and country. The national manager has spoken to Wilshere's manager at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger, who is content with that arrangement given that the 20-year-old has played only three senior games since returning to action after a 17-month lay-off with ankle and knee problems.
The friendly will be the first game to be played in the Friends Arena, where the pitch was laid only five days ago and the roof is to be closed. The fixture offers Sterling, Caulker and Osman an opportunity to impress on this stage after recent encouraging club form. "In some ways Raheem has been the star player for Liverpool and extremely dangerous with his ability to run with the ball, in the games I've seen," said Hodgson. "He and Steven have been playing regularly for the Under-21s and have made that transition.
"Leon Osman is the odd one out and has been performing regularly and well for Everton but has been passed over. He has been one of the unsung heroes of a very good team for five years and I thought it was time to give him a chance. It is nice to have him in the team. He is a very energetic player. He is 31, which surprised me as I thought he plays like a much younger man. Let's hope that continues and I won't have to worry about his birth certificate."
England (4-3-2-1): Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Caulker, Baines; Gerrard, Cleverley, Osman; Sterling, Young; Welbeck.
Sweden (4-2-3-1, probable): Isaksson; Lustig, J Olsson, Granqvist, M Olsson; Kallstrom, Elm; Larsson, Ibrahimovic, Kacaniclic; Berg.
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