England manager Gareth Southgate would have no hesitation unleashing teenagers Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi against the Czech Republic.
There is a chance for one of the 18-year-old wingers to start at Wembley after Marcus Rashford, due to an ankle injury, became the sixth player to withdraw from Southgate’s squad.
The inaugural Nations League finals are looming large this summer, but first comes a key Euro 2020 qualification double-header that the Three Lions approach without a string of first-team players.
John Stones, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Luke Shaw all pulled out of the squad at the start of the week, with Trent Alexander-Arnold following suit on Wednesday due to a back injury.
In-form Manchester United forward Rashford’s withdrawal has now compounded those problems, with an ankle injury seeing him exit from the squad on the eve of the Czech Republic clash.
“Well, he’s been with our medical team all week,” Southgate said.
“We’ve tried to progress his training through the week, so he did some running with them but it’s clear to us that he’s not ready for our matches.
“We’re going to send him back to the club and he’s out of the two games.”
The absentees leave England looking light, with Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse and highly-rated Chelsea teenager Hudson-Odoi the only fresh faces brought into a squad that has dropped from 25 player to 21.
“We knew from a couple of days ago that Marcus wouldn’t be ready for tomorrow, so it’s a great opportunity for the others because they’ve been exceptional in training – they look like they’ve been with us forever,” Southgate said.
“So, we’re really excited. I think we’ve lost a lot of players but it’s an opportunity for others, and when you look at the level of training and the way the team has prepared, they’ve been excellent, so we’re really looking forward to seeing the team play.”
Sancho has won three caps and is pushing for his first competitive start, while fellow Under-17 World Cup winner Hudson-Odoi is in line for his England debut despite having yet to make a league start.
It looks a straight shootout between the pair to start, with Sancho surely ahead of fellow 18-year-old Hudson-Odoi.
“It’s difficult to say really because throughout the age groups, they’ve been very similar in their development,” Southgate said.
“Jadon has obviously had more big match experience at this point and, he has been with us, as the senior team, for a bit longer.
“But Callum has fitted in brilliantly and I won’t hesitate to start either of them in the game, they’re ready, they can play no problem for us.”
Southgate says Hudson-Odoi has looked “every inch an England international” during training for a match that under-fire goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was confirmed as starting.
Declan Rice is pushing for his debut after switching allegiance from the Republic of Ireland, although there is the unwanted backdrop of old social media posts he made as a teenager which appear to support the IRA.
Injuries mean there are sure to be at least four changes to England’s memorable comeback win against Croatia in the Nations League 124 days ago, but Southgate is confident in the tools at his disposal.
“I don’t think it’s a case of experimenting,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to make changes from our last matches, but we’ve had to do that every time we get together.
“The team is in a different place, different people are available. When I’ve looked back over the two years (and seen) who has scored important goals or made important contributions at different times, the squad has had to evolve.
“Part of that has been looking at bringing younger players in, but part of that has been that we’ve always had four, five or six players missing, and you just have to adapt and adjust.
“So, yes, there will be people who haven’t played as often for us, but all of them are ready to play for England.”
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