Caulker and Sterling Shine as England Debutants Provide Hope for Hodgson
By Adrian Back | November 16, 2012 2:41 AM EST
The headlines may have deservedly gone to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his frankly outrageous bicycle kick, but it was somewhat of a watershed night for England manager Roy Hodgson with six debutants on show in Sweden.
Three of the young men making their debuts, Wilfried Zaha, Carl Jenkinson and Steven Caulker, are yet to celebrate their 21st birthdays, while one, Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, could not legally have toasted his first appearance with a glass of bubbly as he is yet to turn 18.
Of the two more mature players making their debuts, Leon Osman certainly impressed in the second half as he continually took up good positions and forced decent saves from Sweden stopper Andreas Isaksson. It was perhaps a harsher lesson for Ryan Shawcross who was to slow in recognising the run of Ibrahimovic and was made to pay as the striker fired home an equaliser.
Tottenham centre-back Caulker emerged from the game with his head held high. Not only did he have a goal on his international debut, but he was able to test himself against one of the finest strikers in world football.
For the best part of his performance he managed to match the power and intelligent runs of Ibrahimovic. He was caught out on a couple of occasions but it is clear that the Tottenham defender deserved plenty more opportunities to prove his worth.
With John Terry now retired from international football and Rio Ferdinand out of favour with Hodgson, there is a chance for two defenders to cement their place in the side and Tottenham fans will be hopeful that Caulker is given the chance.
At the other end of the pitch to Caulker, Sterling also impressed in his 84 minutes on the pitch. A livewire throughout, it was his incisive pass which found Ashley Young who put the ball on a plate for his Manchester United colleague Danny Welbeck.
The Liverpool winger looked tentative in the opening minutes, but quickly settled into the game as he produced numerous surging runs to commit defenders into some rather agricultural challenges.
Sterling also had a hand in the second goal as it was his run which was crudely halted and led to Steven Gerrard whipping the ball into Caulker who prodded home.
Despite his young age, and relative lack of first team football, it seems clear that the Liverpool attacker will have more chances to secure his place in the England squad before the World Cup in 2014 (should we get there).
Zaha was presented with least amount of time to make an impact as his six minute spell on the pitch was completely overshadowed by the brilliance of Ibrahimovic. If he continues to excel for Crystal Palace and help them secure promotion to the top flight then he is sure to feature in Hodgson's squad on more than one occasion.
Arsenal defender Jenkinson was another whose appearance was eclipsed by the great PSG striker but the youngster did show his power in getting forward as his shot from 20 yards was well blocked from Jonas Olsson.
Jenkinson has proved his talent for Arsenal this season while deputising for Bacary Sanga, but much will depend on whether he can become a regular at the Emirates. England are blessed with decent options at right-back with Glen Johnson and Kyle Walked both impressing for their clubs.
With some rumours suggesting that Sagna could be on his way out of Arsenal, Jenkinson could well make the spot his own for club, which would certainly help his chances for his country.
Hodgson will certainly have been pleased with the performances of the young debutants, and with the likes of Tom Cleverley, Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck already established, there is every reason for the England boss to be excited about the future.
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