Preview: England v Egypt
African champions Egypt have been hand-picked by the Football Association to provide England with a dress rehearsal for their Group C clash with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Manager Fabio Capello has declared Wednesday night's friendly at Wembley the first step in England's preparation for this summer's finals and it's fair to say that the Italian will approach the game in a typically professional manner.
Capello intended to start with his first-choice eleven but injuries and personal problems amongst the squad has left the coach without a number of his regulars and he will be forced to turn to his fringe players to provide cover, particularly in defence.
Since England last played, a 1-0 defeat to Brazil in November, Capello has stripped John Terry of the captaincy, although the defender is retained in the squad, following an alleged affair with the ex-partner of Wayne Bridge, who himself quit England as a result of not feeling able to be in the same room as Terry.
As for Egypt, head coach Hassan Shehata soothed some of the pain of failing to qualify for the World Cup, and kept himself in the job he's had since 2004, by winning a third consecutive African Cup of Nations for The Pharaohs in January 2010.
England player in focus: Leighton Baines: With Ashley Cole injured and Wayne Bridge as good as retired, the left-back slot is up for grabs and Baines is in pole position to take it. The Everton defender has been tipped for international honours by club boss David Moyes after an accomplished season at Goodison Park and the 25-year-old has finally received his first call-up. Baines played 16 times for the U21's but is yet to experience the scrutiny of the senior side and with very few England games left before the World Cup he must make an instant impression.
Egypt player in focus: Gedo: Alexandria United forward Gedo, or Mohamed Nagui Ismail Afash to give him his full name, emerged from relative obscurity to score six goals at the 2010 African Cup of Nations and scoop the Golden Boot. What is even more surprising is that the super-sub didn't start a single game and averaged a goal every 35 minutes, including the winner in the final against Ghana. His trophy-winning exploits should be rewarded with start against England.
Key Battle: Wayne Rooney v Wael Gomaa: One of the best strikers in Europe, Wayne Rooney, goes head to head against one of the best defenders in Africa, Wael Gomaa. Rooney's goalscoring exploits with Manchester United, 12 goals in his last nine games and 28 for the season, are well documented and the skilful striker has recently discovered the knack of scoring with his head too. But Al-Ahly centre-back Gomaa is imperious in the air, in both penalty areas, and will be relishing the challenge of facing one football's most high-profile players, fresh from scooping the Defender of the Tournament award at the 2010 ACN.
Tactics: Egypt coach Shehata has stuck with his tried and tested 3-5-2 formation, at least in competitive matches, for the last six years. The system relies on the industry and attacking prowess of his wingbacks, Sayed Moawad and Ahmed Fathi, and libero Hani Said stepping out of defence to make an extra man in midfield. Capello had huge success in qualifying for the World Cup with two up top in a 4-4-2 system, occasionally switching to a 4-5-1 with Rooney as the lone striker. The commonly held belief is that 4-5-1 works better against Egypt, but Capello may want to test his regular set up against an unfamiliar formation.
Quotes: England's Wayne Rooney on John Terry: "I hope the fans don't boo him because I have played in England teams when some of our own players have been booed and it's not nice for the whole team. When you are leading up to a World Cup you want the fans behind you, giving you their whole support. I think that will be really important so I hope he gets a good reception."
Egypt coach Hassan Shehata on how he would deal with alleged love-rats Terry and Cole: "Both players would be excluded and kicked out of the team - no matter who they are and how much the team needs them. This could never happen in the Egyptian team. We endorse strong bonds and respectful relationships."
In the news: The Wembley pitch came in for a bashing following the Carling Cup final on Sunday, with England and Aston Villa midfielder James Milner claiming it is one of the most substandard surfaces he has played on. "It was worse than the couple of lower league team's pitches we have played on, to be honest," Milner said. The re-laid turf was even mentioned as a contributing factor to Michael Owen's hamstring injury, so the Premier League's managers will be anxious spectators. And wasn't there something about a handshake?...
England team news: With Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Glen Johnson all out injured, England's defence will have a distinctly makeshift look. Spurs winger Aaron Lennon is another long-term absentee.
Egypt team news: Hull City striker Amr Zaki is back in the squad after missing out on his country's victorious Africa Cup of Nations campaign through injury and Al Ahly forward Mohamed Aboutrika also returns from a spell on the sidelines.
Probable England line-up (4-4-2): David James; Wes Brown, Matthew Upson, John Terry, Leighton Baines; Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard; Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey
Probable Egypt line-up (3-5-2): Essam El Hadari; Wael Gomaa, Hany Said, Ahmed Al Muhammadi; Sayed Moawad, Ahmed Hassan (C), Hossam Ghaly, Hosni Abd Rabou, Ahmed Fathi; Mohamed Zidan, Mohamed Nagy 'Gedo'
Soccernet prediction: Egypt's 3-5-2 works perfectly against African opposition but frequently comes unstuck against European opponents. It will be a tight game, but if England's reserve defenders can show some cohesion then Capello's side should win at Wembley.