Hot prospects can place World Cup on the menu by feasting on Chile

WHEN Chile last visited Wembley, a fledgling striker by the name of Michael Owen wrote his name into the record books as the youngest to play for the England senior team.

Adam Lallana

It was February, 1998, and less than four months later the teenager was scoring ‘that’ goal against Argentina in St Etienne.

Owen went on to lead the England attack for the next decade, underlining just how much is at stake tonight as Chile return to London for the first time since two goals by Marcelo Salas condemned Glenn Hoddle’s side to a 2-0 defeat.

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Roy Hodgson will, no doubt, make this very point to his players ahead of kick-off as the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley attempt to force their way into next year’s World Cup plans.

All three are expected to feature at some stage in the friendly double-header against Chile and Germany, who visit Wembley on Tuesday.

And all three can see a way to make the final 23-man squad when it is announced on June 2 next year with Hodgson making it clear that places are still up for grabs for anyone able to stake a strong case.

Hodgson’s approach is in stark contrast to that of predecessor Fabio Capello, who ahead of the 2010 World Cup suddenly jettisoned players previously considered certainties for selection.

In the place of Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and Leighton Baines, the Italian then turned to Jamie Carragher and Ledley King, two players who had retired from international football.

Later, it transpired that Capello had also approached Paul Scholes with a similar offer.

Throw in Capello neglecting to settle on a first-choice goalkeeper and it was no wonder that the 2010 World Cup will be forever remembered in this country as the tournament of Robert Green, 0-0 v Algeria and a humiliating exit at the feet of Germany.

It is difficult to imagine Hodgson doing the same, which is why latecomers such as Barkley, Lallana and Rodriguez will be desperate to impress on the international stage.

Understandably, much of the focus ahead of Chile’s third visit to Wembley has centred on the Southampton duo following their first call-up.

Until Hodgson yesterday ruled Rickie Lambert out through injury, there had been the possibility of a Three Lions team featuring three Saints players for the first time since 1986 when Mark Wright, Peter Shilton and Danny Wallace played in a 4-0 win over Egypt.

For a club that three years ago this week was losing at Carlisle United in League One, such a scenario would have represented an incredible turnaround in fortunes.

It is a similar story for the players themselves with both Lambert and Lallana, who capped a fine display against Hull City last weekend with a truly stunning individual goal, having been in the Saints side beaten 3-2 at Brunton Park.

Rodriguez, too, has worked his way up the hard way after coming through the ranks with hometown club Burnley.

This route to a likely international debut tonight included a character-building spell at Stirling Albion that coincided with the Scottish club finishing rock bottom of the First Division, and a short stint on loan with Barnsley.

According to insiders at Turf Moor, both stints helped Rodriguez, a shy individual throughout his teens, enormously. So, too, did being taken under the wing of Ade Akinbiyi when the much-travelled striker was on Burnley’s books.

The pair would spend afternoons putting in extra training sessions with Akinbiyi mentoring the young striker.

Rodriguez’s confidence – both on and off the pitch – visibly soared and although Akinbiyi is now player-coach at Colwyn Bay, he remains in contact with the Southampton striker.

The same goes for the staff at Burnley, who banked a club record £7m fee when Rodriguez moved to the south coast in the summer of 2012.

Hodgson confirmed in his pre-match press briefing that both Rodriguez and Lallana will play a part against Chile tomorrow night, while either John Ruddy or Fraser Forster will deputise for Joe Hart in goal.

The gauntlet, therefore, is laid down as England play the first of three friendlies before Hodgson names a provisional squad of 30 on May 13.

With the team to face Germany likely to revert to a more familiar starting XI, that leaves just the March friendly with Denmark for those hoping to ape Owen in 1998 and force their way into the reckoning for the World Cup finals. The clock is already ticking.