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Weblog: The football punter

England v USA preview

International friendly
Sky One & Sky Sports Main Event, 8pm Thursday


Wayne Rooney has been handed one last chance to celebrate his international career but England's leading marksman (53 goals in 119 appearances) may be denied a winning send-off by an underrated young USA side who could avoid defeat under the Wembley arch.

The FA's decision to indulge Rooney has met with some criticism because it appears at odds with Gareth Southgate's emphasis on looking to the future.

However, it has raised interest in a friendly contest which is firmly in the shadow of Sunday's crucial Nations League clash with Croatia.

Rooney is expected to be limited to the role of second-half substitute and will be accompanied on the bench by a host of first-team regulars as Southgate keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the prize of a victory over Croatia.

England's starting line-up could feature plenty of younger players and there could be international debuts for Brighton centre-back Lewis Dunk and Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson.

By selecting a largely reserve line-up, Southgate should get an honest performance from players desperate to impress.

But it may also be disjointed, as was the case when England's second string lost 1-0 to Belgium in their final World Cup group match.

USA head coach Dave Sarachan will also select a young team, as he has done throughout 2018.

His squad of 27 players features 17 who are 23 or younger and 19 who have earned ten or fewer caps.

Sarachan has a clear strategy to develop the next generation and has handed 19 players their senior USA debuts this year.

It can be difficult to maintain high standards when using so many inexperienced players but USA's performances and results have held up well despite a tough schedule.

Since failing to qualify for the World Cup they have played ten friendlies, winning three, drawing four and losing three.

Notable results have included 1-1 draws away to Portugal and France and a 1-0 victory at home to Mexico.

USA's outstanding player is versatile attacker Christian Pulisic, who is among the brightest prospects for Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.

Pulisic has appeared in just one of USA's five squads this year but is available to face England and is an obvious danger to an understrength Three Lions defence who may lack the powers of resistance which were on show for large parts of last month's memorable 3-2 success away to Spain.

England's impressive success in Seville did a lot to restore the feelgood factor generated by the run to the World Cup semi-finals and may go some way to explaining way they are such a short price to beat the USA.

But few of the stars of Seville are likely to feature from the start against USA and many may get the entire night off.

Some of England's key players will be brought off the bench and their introduction, along with the arrival of Rooney, should lift the atmosphere of the crowd and the tempo of the game.

It could go against the grain of the usual friendly match experience with the substitutions enhancing rather than ruining the game and there is a way for punters to profit by backing the second half to feature more goals than the first.

Recommendations
USA or draw double chance
Second half to have more goals

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Match in Focus

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