Jack Wilshere will make his first start for England in 20 months against the glitz and glamour of Brazil on Wednesday with the captain, Steven Gerrard, claiming his midfield partner has the potential to become "one of the best in the world" but, like the other youngsters in the national squad, must now prove his pedigree.
The central pairing has been earmarked by successive England managers as a first-choice option with Fabio Capello having hoped to road-test the duo in a friendly in Denmark two years ago, only for Gerrard to withdraw from the squad with injury. Wilshere's own fitness problems, which set in over the summer of 2011, ensured the pair have played only 13 minutes together at this level, against Sweden in Stockholm last November, with both now eager to prove the combination can thrive.
"Jack's got a bit of everything: he can tackle, pass, get up and down the pitch, create a goal or score a goal," said Gerrard. "He ticks almost every box, and he's going to get better and better. He's only 21 and a fantastic talent, and we're delighted he's back. He has the potential to become one of the best in the world. I don't want to put any pressure on him, but having played against him recently and seen him in training, he's a one-off. He's a lot better than your normal Premier League midfielder.
"He's been frustrated at the amount of football he's missed and wants to make up for lost time. You have to give credit to his club manager, Arsène Wenger, as well for the way he's found his form, but he'll get better, and better than he is now, which is a scary thought. But one man can't carry a nation on his own. He needs other players to help. I can only tell him to try and keep his feet on the ground and enjoy it: his career will be full of ups and downs, but he has the mentality to handle it and looks as if he can cope with the pressure.
"These young players with huge potential, they all have to go out and prove it in big games in the Premier League, the Champions League and at international level. They have to show they're good enough to compete against other world-class players. If they do, then the tag of 'world-class' can be given out.
"For now, we've still got the likes of [Wayne] Rooney, [Frank] Lampard and [Ashley] Cole, all top players, who can share the responsibility. It's up to us to put our arms round him and make sure we don't put too much pressure on him."
Cole will become the seventh player to earn 100 England caps in the fixture and will join his captain, who achieved the landmark in Stockholm, in being recognised on the pitch before kick-off. The Chelsea full-back, 32, will start the game – Roy Hodgson is expected to pair Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck up front – but has acknowledged his continued involvement is threatened by Leighton Baines's excellent form at Everton .
But even if he loses his place, Cole would never contemplate making himself unavailable for selection.
"I am proud, privileged and overwhelmed by how many times I have played for England, and I hope it doesn't stop here," said Cole, who has endured ups and downs with the national team's support over his 12-year career at this level. "In football you can't always have it your own way. You are going to have bad spells and periods when you are not playing well. It is something I have learned to deal with it. If there comes a time – and there will – when I am not first-choice left‑back, it won't be a problem.
"I am here to help the team. I am not going to quit just because someone is playing better than me or deserves to play. I enjoy coming here and being with the managers and the players."
Cole was among a group of senior players who have spoken to Michelle Farrer, the director of Club England Team Operations, and expressed a willingness to help Paul Gascoigne in his struggle to defeat alcoholism. The 45-year-old, who won 57 caps, has admitted himself to a treatment centre in the United States with the Football Association having made attempts over the last two years to offer its help in his recovery. "We've made it clear to the FA that we're prepared to help if needed," said Gerrard. "If we can help in any way, we're available and prepared to do so."
"He has our full moral support and anything we can possibly do to help him we'll be more than happy to do," said Hodgson. "It's a question for Paul now to get the treatment he needs. Kind words won't be enough. He needs some quite severe action, and let's hope he gets what's required in order for him to pull out of this situation and come out on the other side as the player and person we all remember. I just hope he realises he's so well loved and respected in football that a lot of us are very sad to see him fighting to get his life back to where he wants it to be."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ronnie Macdonald