England set for history – so why is the mood so downbeat?
Fears over injuries, a lack of depth and the value of an international cap overshadow the possibility of a 100 per cent record
England may be on target to finish their Euro 2016 qualification campaign with an unprecedented 100 per cent record, but there is little sense of history being made ahead of their final game against Lithuania.
Instead the focus is on the number of players manager Roy Hodgson has used during the campaign, the lack of world class talent at the England manager's disposal and the prospect of an England cap being devalued.
Hodgson appears to be in a cleft stick. As many as 14 first team regulars are unavailable for the match and, anyhow, there is pressure on England not to precipitate any more club versus country rows by forcing big stars to play unless it is absolutely necessary.
As a result though, the team that Hodgson is likely to select will have an experimental feel. And that, in itself has added to what feels like a downward spiral of interest in the national team.
"Phil Jagielka will become Hodgson's sixth captain, leading out a team with Phil Jones restored in defence, Jonjo Shelvey anchoring midfield, Jamie Vardy incorporated into a front three and Jack Butland making his competitive debut," says The Guardian, which notes that by the end of the game 33 different players are likely to have played for the Three Lions in qualification.
England's expected starting line-up has a grand total of 125 caps and 11 goals, says the Daily Telegraph. "That it just 18 more caps than Wayne Rooney, one of those players who are absent, has collected on his own and an astonishing 39 goals fewer than the England captain's personal haul."
Another problem for Hodgson is that the presence of teenagers like Spurs midfielder Dele Alli, with only four Premier League appearances to his name, highlights England's lack of resources while also devaluing an international cap.
Jamie Carragher, notes the Telegraph, has "expressed their concern over how easy it now appeared to be to earn a senior cap because of the shallow pool of talent available".
Aside from that there is an issue of tactics for Hodgson. How can he plan for the stern tests ahead with a team made up of players unlikely to feature next summer?
"Perhaps a more relevant issue than England's decent, but flattering, record is whether Hodgson has been able to discover his preferred team or strategy and it feels as though he is a long way from any certainty," says The Times.