By Paul Joyce
ENGLAND are worried about Scott Parker’s fitness and face going into Euro 2012 with only one fully-fit, first-choice central midfielder following Frank Lampard’s withdrawal from the squad.
Parker is set to start against Belgium at Wembley tomorrow in England’s final friendly before the tournament and will take his place in Roy Hodgson’s line-up for the opening game against France on June 11. However, there is anxiety among England’s coaching staff that he is still some way short of recapturing the levels he produced for Tottenham last season.
Problems are building up for Hodgson, with Lampard now out with a thigh injury.
“That is a huge blow for us,” he said.
Parker missed three of the last four games of the campaign with an Achilles tendon problem and managed 56 minutes of last Saturday’s friendly win over Norway in Oslo. While that was longer than originally planned, it became apparent he lacks the mobility that allowed him to emerge as such a key player for Spurs.
The situation is prompting a sense of unease, coming as it does just 10 days before the opening Group D game with France in Donetsk and with Lampard’s worst fears confirmed yesterday. He underwent a scan on the thigh he injured in training on Wednesday and the results revealed the severity of the tear meant he would not be guaranteed to return before the final group game with Ukraine on June 19.
Hodgson, who has already lost Gareth Barry, has called up Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson from his list of stand-by players.
He said: “The fact the doctor cannot guarantee Frank could take part in any of the group matches means we have to replace him. Apart from it being a huge blow to me and the team, I’m especially disappointed for Frank. He has been in very good form and was looking forward to the tournament.
“He made a huge contribution towards us qualifying for the Euros so it is cruel to be forced out just before the tournament.”
Barry withdrew on Monday after tearing a stomach muscle against Norway and, in the space of a few days, England have lost two senior players who have amassed 143 caps between them. It leaves skipper Steven Gerrard as the only recognised central midfielder whose fitness is not currently overly compromised, though even he missed the final two games of Liverpool’s season with a back complaint.
Henderson was promoted after the Football Association contacted Uefa to confirm that they would be allowed to draft in a replacement.
Henderson, despite a generally underwhelming season at Anfield, improved towards the end of the campaign when deployed in his favoured central position. James Milner and Phil Jones, who was originally picked for his defensive versatility, are England’s other options.
There has been a clamour for Hodgson to turn to Manchester United’s Michael Carrick, but he told England last season he no longer wanted to be considered if he could not be guaranteed a starting berth.
Hodgson, understandably, could not provide that and has been forced instead to reconfigure his squad.