England manager Sven Goran Eriksson has sprung one or two surprises in his provisional 23-man World Cup squad.
The biggest shock comes with the inclusion of Arsenal’s 17-year-old Theo Walcott who is included in the squad despite not starting a game for the Champions League finalists.
The former Southjampton striker is incuded at the expense of the more experienced Jermanie Defoe of Tottenham and Crystal Palace’s Andy Johnson, both of whom have been placed on stand-by.
Eriksson has included Wayne Rooney even though the Manchester United forward will not be fit for the group stages. However, there is no place for Spurs’ versatile defender Ledley King who suffered a similar injury to Rooney but is deemed surplus to requirements.
Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing, Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon and Bayern Munich’s Owen Hargreaves are other surprise inclusions.
Chelsea winger Wright-Phillips does not even make the standby list, which also includes uncapped West Ham midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, Crystal Palace striker Andy Johnson, Liverpool keeper Scottt Carson and Charlton full-back Luke Young.
Eriksson admitted he was taking a gamble with Walcott, but he fels that the luxury of taking 23 players allows him to take a risk.
“It is a gamble, of course it is a gamble I can’t deny that but it is a nice one,” he said.
“He is a great talent. I have 23 players, why not take one gambling?”
“It’s a big gamble, I know it is. I am excited to see him, he’s a big talent. And pace in football today is worth a lot,” said the England coach, who will step down after the World Cup.
“For me it’s a good squad, an interesting squad. There are some new players, some young players and it is an attacking squad with a lot of pace which is necessary in a World Cup.”
Asked how he came to the decision to include Walcott, Eriksson admitted: “Probably not too logically.
“Sometimes you do it on feelings as well and I am excited about Theo Walcott.”
Walcott and Peter Crouch the only fully fit recognised strikers in the squad, with Rooney a major doubt and Owen short of match fitness.
“I think Michael Owen will be fully 100% fit to train with us from Monday,” added Eriksson. “Rooney, it is just to wait and hope and see.
“I don’t know exactly when he is going to do the next scan.
“But Joe Cole is a striker as well so in reality we have seven defenders, nine midfielders and five strikers – it is depending on how you use Joe Cole.”
Rooney’s broken metatarsal is expected to rule him out of the start of the tournament but Eriksson is prepared to take a gamble on arguably his most important player.
“It would be absolutely crazy if I didn’t pick Rooney when there is still a possibility he can play in the World Cup.” Eriksson added.
Goalkeepers: Paul Robinson (Tottenham), David James (Manchester City), Robert Green (Norwich City)
Defenders: Gary Neville (Manchester Utd), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester Utd), John Terry (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Arsenal), Sol Campbell (Arsenal), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Wayne Bridge (Chelsea)
Midfielders: David Beckham (Real Madrid), Michael Carrick (Tottenham), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)
Forwards: Michael Owen (Newcastle), Peter Crouch (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester Utd), Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Stand-by: Scott Carson (Liverpool), Luke Young (Charlton), Nigel Reo-Coker (West Ham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace).
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