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Hodgson’s experimental side hoping to run like clockwork in Swiss capital

So soon after England’s penalty shoot-out heartbreak in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, Italy again provide the test for Roy Hodgson’s experimental squad in a relatively low-key friendly on Wednesday night.

Hodgson and Cesare Prandelli will once more pit their wits on neutral ground, this time in the picturesque surroundings of Bern, Switzerland, with the outcome of this encounter far less important than the previous meeting back in June.

As is tradition in the international opener that precedes the start of the Premier League season, England have a number of key names absent.

The timing of this annual round of matches does not often suit the league’s top dogs as they hope for a fit and healthy squad for their first tests of a new campaign.

Just ask Vicente Del Bosque how he feels about having to parade the World and European champions, Spain in Puerto Rico for a meaningless friendly. A decent addition to Del Bosque’s holiday plans for sure but a nightmare for Premier League participants.

For England, it is another chance to see what the future holds. With late withdrawals of Arsenal duo, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, Manchester City goalkeeper, Joe Hart and Chelsea’s out of favour front man, Daniel Sturridge, Hart’s City team mate, Joleon Lescott is called upon to add utility at short notice.

This Italian assessment gives the 65 year-old a chance to avenge England’s quarter-final exit but also provides six uncapped players with an opportunity to pencil their names into Hodgson's squad for the 2014 World Cup qualifying double-header against Moldova and Ukraine on September 7 and 11.

Tottenham Hotspur pair, Steven Caulker and Jake Livermore are among six new faces along with Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley, Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand making up new outfield additions.

Butland could make history

Both goalkeeping inclusions are hopeful of making their long-awaited debuts. Birmingham City’s, Jack Butland (pictured) will become England’s youngest ever shot-stopper if he gets the nod over Norwich City’s John Ruddy.

The other surprise admission is the return of Manchester United midfielder, Michael Carrick after an 18-month exodus. The former Spurs general did not feature under previous England boss, Fabio Capello at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa so thereafter made himself unavailable for selection last January but impressed for United last season so is back in the squad on merit.

There were major plus points from Hodgson’s first outing at a major tournament as England coach. Their resilience in the defeat of Sweden in their second group game was something that the Three Lions haven’t offered in recent years. An under-lying hunger from newcomers to impress and give 100% was also refreshing so the former West Brom man can take heart from that.

However, the inevitable quarter-final penalty shoot-out exit was all too familiar for England’s “Barmy Army”.

The England boss has asked his side to play with the same spirit displayed by Stuart Pearce’s Team GB and make the country proud although they too were eliminated by dreaded spot-kicks in the last eight of the Olympic tournament.

England’s cubs will hope to roar

The experience of Carrick and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard in central midfield should settle a youthful Three Lions, or should that be lion cubs with such a fledgling line-up?

Despite Italy’s successful passage to the Euro 2012 final where they bowed out to the ‘tiki-taka’ of the Spaniards, Prandelli has named eight uncapped players for the game.

Unable to name any of his Juventus regulars due to their Italian Super Cup victory over Napoli in Beijing on Sunday, (China has played host to the marquee game for several seasons now due to commercial reasons), the coach has been forced to sample his country’s youth just like tonight’s opponents.

Without the excellent Mario Balotelli and the rested Antonio Cassano, the Italians present a relatively unknown front line of AC Milan’s Stephan El Sharaawy, Roma’s Mattia Destro and Atalanta’s Manolo Gabbiadini, all without a senior cap between them.

However all are touted as future starlets for the Azzurri so will gain valuable experience against an England side similarly eager to impress.

If Hodgson can deliver a win, a positive performance and finish the game with no injuries to appease his Premier League colleagues, this futile 90 minutes could be anything but.

Banishing demons of our Euro 2012 despair and bleeding through several new players would be a perfect warm-up to England’s World Cup qualifying campaign and one to maintain home interest in future international examinations.

By Tom Sharp

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