This one should be very intriguing contest at Wembley Stadium this afternoon. (2:30pm ET, Fox Soccer)
England and the Republic of Ireland have not squared off at Wembley Stadium since 1991, and the Irish could well seal a shock win at the home of football.
England are missing several regulars for the visit of the Irish, with captain Steven Gerrard (shoulder) out and Andy Carroll (heel), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Tom Cleverley (calf) and Kyle Walker all missing.
For fans of Major League Soccer, you’ll get to see Robbie Keane captaining the Irish national team bang in form, after his hat trick against Seattle on Sunday night.
As for Keane’s teammates, they’re struggling through injury too. Wolves striker Kevin Doyle (Achilles tendon), Norwich’s Anthony Pilkington (knee) and Leeds United’s Paul Green (hamstring) are all missing, while Stoke defender Marc Wilson is out with a calf injury.
The rigors of a tough domestic campaign have hit both teams.
No game has been played between these two nations since 1995 when a ‘friendly’ in Dublin had to be abandoned after 27 minutes after England fans rioted at Lansdowne Road. No doubt the English FA will be hoping for calm at Wembley, with the match organized as part of the FA’s 150 year anniversary.
One of the stories ahead of tonight’s clash is Ashley Cole winning his 100th cap at left back. The Chelsea defender will lead the Three Lions out to celebrate the occasion (after much confusion and deliberation) as he joins an elite club of English players to reach a century of games.
(More: What to expect from England vs. Ireland at Wembley)
As for the game itself, there is certainly nothing ‘friendly’ about this. Both teams will be flying into the tackles with their nations pride at stake. That sentiment is often echoed too much. But in this game it is certainly the case.
Roy Hodsgon has refused to call the game a ‘friendly’ and cites the importance of preparing the team for crucial World Cup qualifiers at the end of the summer.
All eyes will be on Wayne Rooney are his recent weeks of unrest with Manchester United, and Arsenal attackers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should pose Ireland a serious threat.
Giovanni Trapattoni has much more at stake, after Ireland’s disastrous showing at Euro 2012. The Italian manager will be preparing his squad for their crucial World Cup qualifier with the Faroe Islands on June 7.
A positive result in this crunch match at Wembley would do the men from the Emerald Isle the world of good.
Prediction: I am going for an England win. But I do not think it will be anywhere near as comprehensive as fans are suggesting. Ireland are a stubborn and aggressive side, with almost their whole squad plying their trade in the English leagues, so huge pride is at stake here. If Hodgson can get England’s defense settled, then they should find goals going forward. In an open game, I think 3-1 to England will be the final score.