Wayne Rooney links up with England squad in farewell match

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Wayne Rooney joined the rest of the England squad at St George’s Park on Monday ahead of his one-off comeback against the United States.

The 33-year-old will come off the bench in Thursday’s friendly to collect his 120th cap after the Football Association decided to honour his record-breaking international career.

Rooney, who with 53 goals is England’s all-time leading goalscorer, also holds more caps than any other outfield player.

He will be a substitute at Wembley but manager Gareth Southgate will give him minutes on the pitch in a match officially known as the Wayne Rooney Foundation International.

The DC United frontman has not played for England in almost two years and is not in contention for Sunday’s Nations League clash with Croatia.

Only Danny Welbeck is missing from the initial 28-man squad named by Southgate last week after the Arsenal forward broke his ankle in Thursday night’s Europa League draw with Sporting Lisbon.

The remainder of the squad joined together on Monday, with some going through a light training session.

After making his senior Three Lions debut as a 17-year-old, Rooney was still excited to be back on the scene some 15 years later, posting a message on Twitter ahead of meeting up with the squad.

“Looking forward to meeting up with the @England squad later today, always a huge honour. An exciting week for @FoundationWR!,” he wrote.

Rooney is joined in the ranks by Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson, who earned his first senior call-up after a fine start to the season with the Cherries.

Tottenham full-back Kieran Trippier also reported for duty despite limping out of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

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Qualification, promotion and relegation picture in the Nations League

Tom White 12/11/2018
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The Nations League finals line-up will be set in the current international break, along with promotion and relegation.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at how the first round of fixtures can affect the key issues.

A:1 France, Holland, Germany

France can clinch the group with a point against Holland on November 16. A Holland win would condemn Germany to relegation.

A:2 Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland

Iceland are relegated regardless of November 15’s result against Belgium. Top spot in the group will not be decided until the final match between Switzerland and Belgium.

A:3 Portugal, Italy, Poland

Portugal need only a draw in Italy to seal the group with a game to spare. Poland are already relegated.

A:4 Spain, England, Croatia

Spain will seal a place in the finals if they win against Croatia.

B:1 Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia

Ukraine are already promoted, while the relegation battle will go down to the final game.

B:2 Russia, Turkey, Sweden

Turkey will be relegated if they lose to Sweden. That is also the only result that can prevent – or at least delay – Russia winning the group.

B:3 Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Northern Ireland

Bosnia and Herzegovina need only a point against Austria to guarantee promotion. Northern Ireland will be relegated unless Austria lose.

B:4 Denmark, Wales, Republic of Ireland

Wales and Denmark go head to head with the winner taking the group. The Republic will be relegated unless Denmark lose.

C:1 Israel, Scotland, Albania

Albania will be relegated if they lose to Scotland. Promotion will go down to the final game.

C:2 Finland, Greece, Hungary, Estonia

Finland need only a point against Greece to be promoted. Estonia need a win – or at least a 3-3 draw – against Hungary to have any hope of avoiding relegation.

C:3 Bulgaria, Norway, Cyprus, Slovenia

Defeat to Norway would see Slovenia relegated to League D. The promotion battle will go down to the final round of games.

C:4 Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Lithuania

Lithuania must beat Romania – either by two clear goals or while scoring at least three – to have any hope of avoiding relegation. Serbia can clinch the group if they beat Montenegro and Romania fail to win.

D:1 Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Andorra

Georgia have already clinched promotion.

D2: Luxembourg, Belarus, Moldova, San Marino

Luxembourg will be promoted if they beat Belarus.

D:3 Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta

Kosovo will be promoted if they win in Malta and Azerbaijan do not beat the Faroe Islands.

D:4 Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Armenia, Gibraltar

Macedonia can wrap up the group with victory over Liechtenstein, but only if Gibraltar and Armenia draw.

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Luis Enrique finally sees sense over Jordi Alba after flexing his muscles

Andy West 9/11/2018
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Jordi Alba

Well, it had to happen sooner or later: Jordi Alba has been recalled to the Spain squad.

The omission of the Barcelona left-back from Luis Enrique’s first two squads was by far the biggest story of the new era for La Roja, and it was hard to give any credence to the manager’s claims that his decision to overlook Alba was not a personal matter resulting from their fall-out during their time together at the Camp Nou.

With Alba fit and starting the season in excellent form, it was very difficult to explain how he was being left out on sporting grounds.

It is possible to argue that Marcos Alonso is a better option thanks to his greater physical presence: Alba’s small stature leaves him vulnerable in the air, something which many opponents attempt to target by sending in deep crosses to a centre forward who has pulled to the far post.

So you could say that Alonso’s greater height – he is seven inches taller than Alba – led to Enrique selecting him ahead of the Barcelona man, especially if Enrique intended to ask his defence to sit deep and hold the edge of their own penalty area.

But that’s pretty much the only argument you can make for ditching Alba, and it certainly doesn’t explain why he was left out of the squad – never mind the starting XI – at the expense of Valencia’s Jose Gaya, who is almost exactly the same height.

Luis Enrique reportedly fell out with Alba when he was coach of Barcelona.

Luis Enrique reportedly fell out with Alba when he was coach of Barcelona.

It also doesn’t make sense in the context of the style of play being employed by Enrique. Far from sitting back and defending their penalty area in the style of, say, Atletico Madrid, the new Spain boss has been instructing his players to push high up the pitch and condense the play into the opposition’s half.

England fans will remember with glee how this strategy was gloriously exploited by the Three Lions during their remarkable first-half performance in Sevilla last month, when it was abundantly obvious that the pace of Alba – rather than the far more pedestrian Alonso – would have been extremely useful in covering the lightning counter-attacks launched by Gareth Southgate’s men.

In any case, Alba has now finally been recalled, and the only conclusion we can make is that his exclusion was, indeed, personal. Enrique is obviously fully aware of the left-back’s attributes and weaknesses, so it can hardly be the case that he has suddenly decided that Alba is now worthy of a place in the squad whereas previously he wasn’t.

So we can only assume that Enrique was flexing his muscles during the early stages of his reign, perhaps using Alba as an example to the rest of his players to show that he was the man in charge, and that he was prepared to take tough and unpopular decisions if his authority was questioned.

Now those muscles have been suitably flexed, and we can surely expect to see Alba back in the starting line-up for Thursday’s trip to Croatia, which Spain need to win to ensure finishing top of the group.

SUPER MARIO?

There could also be another new face in the centre of defence following Enrique’s decision to call up Mario Hermoso, whose outstanding start to the season has played a major role in Espanyol’s unexpected rise to second place in La Liga.

Rather than starting a power-play fire with Alba, the biggest priority in defence for the new coach is finding a long-term replacement for another Barcelona player, Gerard Pique.

There are surprisingly few options. Nacho, Inigo Martinez, Raul Albiol and Marc Bartra – the players called up by Enrique so far – are all unconvincing for different reasons, and it would be a very handy solution if Hermoso’s current form is a sign of things to come over the next few years.

One specific attribute of the 23 year-old – who came through Real Madrid’s youth ranks and is now being strongly tipped to return to the Bernabeu in January – is that he is left-footed, providing welcome balance next to right-footed skipper Sergio Ramos.

It also means that he would be positioned next to Alba in the back four, giving a new complexion to that part of Enrique’s line-up. And if all goes well in Croatia, they could both be there to stay.

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