England v Germany: Withdrawals ensure youth has its evening

IN Australia's sporting glossary, an outsider in a contest or race who is suddenly propelled into the spotlight in the run-up to a major competition or event is known as a '˜bolter'.

Englands John Stones, left, and Kyle Walker laugh and joke during a sprint in Englands training session in Burton (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).

A plethora of withdrawals has ensured that England have several ‘bolters’ vying for an opportunity in tonight’s game with world champions Germany at Wembley, which has a bit of a surreal feel, given the number of absentees – mostly from the home ranks.

It is headlined by the unavailability through injury of England’s two ‘golden boys’ in Harry Kane and Dele Alli, with the latter having famously burst onto the international stage by virtue of a magnificent performance in the Three Lions’ stunning 3-2 comeback triumph in Berlin in March 2016.

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Missing also, among others, are Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and player of the moment Harry Winks with the build-up to the latest instalment of one of world football’s classic international rivalries having revolved around who will not be at Wembley tonight as opposed to who actually is.

As the saying goes, one man’s misfortune is another’s gain.

Although if anyone had said at the start of the season to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham, Joe Gomez and Jack Cork that they would be involved in England’s senior squad for a November friendly with Germany, then the chances are they may have been greeted with a quizzical look.

Sometimes, fate and circumstance can mean a great deal. Especially in the run-up to major championships. The trick is grasping any chances that come along.

For many supporters, at least, the sight of several England players involved whose club commitments are with the likes of Crystal Palace, Swansea City and Burnley will be regarded as a refreshing one, following on from recent call-ups for the likes of Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah and Southampton’s Nathan Redmond.

The sight of Loftus-Cheek on the pitch against the Germans, with the midfielder likely to be handed his debut tonight, will provide further encouragement to others from ‘lesser’ clubs in their quest to gatecrash a place at next year’s World Cup finals in Russia, including the likes of Leicester City’s Demerai Gray.

Some international managers clearly pay lip service about wanting to give young players a chance. But for England manager Gareth Southgate, with his background with the Under-21s, it is plainly not idle talk.

The fact there are three 20-year-olds in the squad in Abraham, Gomez and Marcus Rashford and a 21-year-old in Loftus-Cheek underscores the theory that if you are good enough, you are old enough.

Of the current 20 best-ranked footballing nations, only four had a younger average age among their 23 most-selected players – the same size as a World Cup squad — than England during World Cup qualification.

Just two of them, France and Denmark, were in Europe.

In a year in which England’s Under-17s and Under-20s sides have conquered the world and the senior outfit has also said goodbye to the last remaining member of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ in Wayne Rooney, the elevation of youth also suggests joined-up thinking.

A bigger picture and a here-and-now one. Almost Germanic, some would venture.

Germany’s line-up tonight is also likely to feature some unheralded names, with RB Leipzig full-back Marcel Halstenberg to make his debut just a year after making his first Bundesliga appearance.

With two mainstays, and World Cup winners, in goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and key defender Jerome Boateng also missing and another in elegant midfielder Toni Kroos being a doubt with a stomach upset, the visitors could be without three of their leading lights from Brazil 2014.

But there are plenty of cabs ready to come off the rank and step up, as is invariably the German way.

Outlining what he expects from Die Mannschaft this evening, with typical Teutonic logic, coach Joachim Low, whose side face France on Tuesday, remarked: “We want to play a good game, the result is always important, but I also know that I want to experiment.

“It is still a trial period this year. With the (World Cup) tournament in mind I want to see not only those players who play regularly.

“2017 has already played a major role in the nomination decision and as we only have two international matches (this year) ahead of the World Cup, we are looking particularly hard at the performances that players bring to their clubs.”