The oldest international derby retains its intrigue.
England's meetings with Scotland may have endured a hiatus over recent years but memories are still fresh of a peroxide blond Paul Gascoigne dumping Colin Hendry on his haunches, of Don Hutchison's winner in vain and, drifting slightly further back, of broken crossbars and torn up turf. History recalls all as blood and thunder confrontations played out in an ear-splitting din. There is a romance to this rivalry.
Steven Gerrard had yet to represent his country when these nations last collided, back in 1999. "But it still hurt when Hutchison scored that only goal," said the English captain. "I know this is classed as a friendly but we are all patriotic Englishmen and we all want to beat Scotland. You want to make your own history, have your own memories. This will probably be my last chance to play Scotland so, if we get a win, it'll be one I remember for the rest of my life. And if we were to get beat, I'm sure we will be criticised for a very long time."
That is what is at stake. Yet, amid the frenzy, Roy Hodgson must not only secure a first home win over the Auld Enemy since Euro 96 – admittedly a deceptive statistic – but also plan for competitive contests where World Cup qualifying points are at stake. Moldova, one of only two teams England have beaten to date in Group H, and a daunting trip to Ukraine await next month in a section that has tightened at the top. The manager will crave the chance to inject momentum back into his side's approach with victory over the Scots, a win to restore some of a dwindling feel-good factor, but he must also spy signs of longer-term promise.
These August friendlies can feel rather makeshift. Hodgson handed five players their debuts against Italy in Berne a year ago, with only Tom Cleverley having established himself at this level since. Three years ago Fabio Capello capped four first-timers, including Bobby Zamora, though one of the others from that narrow win over Hungary, Jack Wilshere, already feels like a returning hero. He will sit alongside Gerrard in midfield on Wednesday, a partnership that has previously featured for only 103 minutes, but one surely pivotal for the qualifiers ahead.
Hodgson must spy evidence of understanding at Wembley, whether that involves slick dovetailing and combination play, or that required blend of solidity, attacking spring and accuracy in the pass. "Jack's got many strengths to his game and I'm itching to get out there and show we can form a good partnership," Gerrard said. "With the right amount of time, we will complement each other, and I believe we can give anyone a game. He seems a level-headed kid, he wants to learn, he loves England, he has quality ... Even though he's young, without adding pressure to him, he's one of the best players in the squad.
"For this team to move forward and improve we need all our top players available. Fingers crossed he stays fit and is available for the next four qualifiers because, for me coming to the end of an England career, I want to make the most of my last bit of time. Hopefully Jack can help us achieve something."
The Arsenal midfielder's career at this level stretches to only 413 minutes at present. Gerrard, with this to be cap No103, went on to admit he has "to assume it's my last year" in the national set-up, with that an added incentive to thrive alongside the younger man and help propel this team to Brazil.
The manager has other options to explore away from midfield. Chris Smalling and Phil Jagielka trained together at centre-half at St George's Park and appear likely to start, particularly given the squad's three-man Chelsea contingent only arrived at the team's Hertfordshire hotel at around 4pm on Tuesday following their involvement in the club's pre-season tour of the United States. Phil Jones, Wilfried Zaha and Rickie Lambert will hope for some involvement. Then there is Wayne Rooney, a player disaffected at his club and whose pre-season has been so disrupted by niggling injury, but a striker anxious to prove form and fitness before the Premier League returns.
Rooney will be key, fitness permitting, in the four remaining qualifiers whether he is featuring for Manchester United or not. This is an opportunity to generate some match fitness. "He has been frustrated with injuries throughout the summer, but this is a great game for Wayne," Gerrard said. "There is a lot of media attention on him at the moment because of his club situation, but he has got the chance to get some much needed minutes under his belt and to play for England, which will be a release for him."
The United forward played a full part in training, as did Theo Walcott although Michael Carrick missed out on Tuesday. Those thrust into the fray must convince Hodgson of their quality, even if this contest bears little resemblance to what awaits in the qualifiers. "Yes, Scotland will be a slightly different challenge to Moldova and Ukraine, but it's a chance to train and spend time together, and hopefully get a win to give us confidence," added the captain.
"The four qualifiers will put a lot of pressure on the team, and the expectation on us here will prepare us for that." This game was an annual fixture from 1947 to 1989. A first meeting in 14 years should have the juices flowing ahead of tricky tests ahead.
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