Gareth Southgate confirmed Jack Butland will start in goal when England welcome Italy to Wembley but insisted the decision is not an indicator of his World Cup plans.
The England manager named four goalkeepers in his squad for the friendly double header against the Netherlands and Italy, with Jordan Pickford being given the nod ahead of Butland, Joe Hart and Nick Pope in the 1-0 win against the Dutch on Friday.
Butland will be given a chance to press his claims on Tuesday, with the experienced Hart, who started in all but one of England’s World Cup qualifiers, once again overlooked.
Southgate said at his pre-match press conference: “At the beginning of the week we decided to give (Pickford and Butland) a game for the experience.
“We’ve stuck with the plan right the way through with those decisions and there’s no reason to come away from that.
“In lots of positions on the field we’ve got really good options and players that can go into the team and do well for us. We’ve got tough decisions further down the line. There’s a lot to play for.
“It’s important that we have competition for places everywhere on the pitch, that breeds good performances. You need a clear understanding of how we want to play but then there’s the additional pressure of knowing you’ve got to play well to keep your place.”
Hart has lost his first-team spot at West Ham to Adrian in recent weeks, prompting speculation about how he fits into Southgate’s plans.
“Joe’s professionalism has been brilliant with us. He’s always performed well for us. We had the best defensive record in Europe in qualifying,” Southgate said in defence of Hart.
“This week, even though he knew he wasn’t going to be involved in the games, he’s been a positive influence on the other players.”
The Azzurri did not qualify for this year’s World Cup but Southgate is not writing them off.
“They’re not at the World Cup because they were in Spain’s group.
“They’ll press us with more intensity than we got pressed the other night and it’s a really good challenge for us to be able to play.”
Argentina star Lionel Messi is set to return from a minor injury for Tuesday’s international friendly against Spain, national team coach Jorge Sampaoli said on Monday.
The Barcelona forward sat out Friday’s 2-0 defeat of Italy in Manchester with a thigh muscle problem but came through Monday’s training session in Madrid and is expected to line up against the 2010 world champions.
“He trained as normal with the group so he’s okay to play,” Sampaoli told a news conference at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Sampaoli insisted he was not gambling over his captain’s fitness by fielding Messi against Spain.
“If there was the slightest risk, Leo would have said something. The eve of the match against Italy he indicated that he was not in a state to play.
“But here, he did a fitness test yesterday (Sunday), he did another one today and he’s fine… I don’t think there will be a problem tomorrow (Tuesday).”
Former Chile coach Sampaoli last week described the current Argentina team as “more Messi’s side than mine”.
“Football is about the players, what I meant was he has the power to create links and communicate out on the field,” he explained.
“He can generate a lot of stuff… it’s impossible to teach something to Messi.”
“We are in a place where Leo is untouchable,” added Sampaoli, before suggesting his team would be built around the advice he picked up from Messi.
“Leo, you have to listen to him, create situations that will be optimal for him and from there build a team in relation to that.”
Spain and Argentina are seen as two leading contenders at the World Cup in Russia which runs from June 14 to July 15.
The last meeting between the countries came in a 2010 friendly in Buenos Aires where Messi scored in a 4-1 Argentina victory.
Jerome Boateng insists Germany see Tuesday’s friendly against Brazil in Berlin as an important test despite coach Joachim Loew planning a string of changes.
As first-choice Manuel Neuer is recovering from a fractured foot, it effectively means Germany will field their third and fourth choice goalkeepers against the South American giants.
Hertha Berlin’s Marvin Plattenhardt will also make only his sixth international appearance at left-back.
Boateng, who was born in Berlin, will captain Germany in his home city if Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira fails to recover from a back problem.
The Bayern Munich defender played down the resting of World Cup winners Ozil and Mueller.
“Despite that, it is still an important game and there are other reasons Mueller and Ozil aren’t here anymore,” said Boateng.
“They have both played a lot this season and they shouldn’t be over-played.
“Those involved don’t always play for the national team, but in games like this you can test things, the Brazilians are also missing players.”
This will be the first time Germany face Brazil at senior international level since the Selecao were hammered 7-1 in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil coach Tite has included four survivors — Marcelo, Fernandinho, Willian and Paulinho — from the squad mauled by the Germans four years ago.
Fernandinho is expected to replace Douglas Costa in the only change from the team which beat Russia 3-0 in Moscow on Friday without the injured Neymar.
Loew is likely to start with just a handful of players who were involved in the remarkable Belo Horizonte clash in 2014.
After Germany drew 1-1 with Spain last Friday, Loew insists the Brazil showdown is another demanding challenge for the world champions.
“Both games are high-level test matches for us,” said Loew.
“You can see that from the extremely high pass quota — over 90 percent — from Spain, we expect the same against Brazil.
“Against top teams like this you can learn a lot of things to take away for the 2018 World Cup.”
Brazil coach Tite has spoken about the “ghost” of the 7-1 defeat still haunting the Selecao, but Loew said it’s time to move on.
“There might be three or four players in the starting line-ups from 2014,” he said.
“I do not think that, for example, Marcelo, who played at the time and has shown up really well at Real Madrid, as have other Brazilians in top teams, will be afraid against us or will fear another 7-1 defeat.
“Of course, the Brazilians probably have a bit of desire for revenge, but you can’t turn the clock back.
“The 7-1 is the past.”