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Warming up for summer tests

Published: Wednesday 21 May 2003, 21.05CET
UEFA EURO 2004™ hopefuls England, Finland and Norway are all in friendly action on Thursday.
Published: Wednesday 21 May 2003, 21.05CET

Warming up for summer tests

UEFA EURO 2004™ hopefuls England, Finland and Norway are all in friendly action on Thursday.
Football supporters in Scotland and Portugal might disagree, but the UEFA Cup final between Celtic FC and FC Porto is not the only game taking place this week.

Mandela day
Even the most cursory glance at the newsstands in England or South Africa should have provided that information. For the meeting of these two nations at King's Park, Durban on Thursday has been big news. Not least because on the eve of the match, the England squad, led by captain David Beckham, met the former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Mutual appreciation
Beckham, sporting a new, cornrow-style haircut, said it was an "amazing honour". Mandela, holding a white England jersey with his name on the back, hoped the England team would support South Africa's bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. "I would love to be here in 2010," Beckham was reported as saying.

Here and now
England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson will just be glad he is here now. The Swede's preparations for the game have been overshadowed by the usual round of squad withdrawals, including midfield players Nicky Butt, Kieron Dyer and Danny Murphy. The most notable absentee, however, will be Wayne Rooney.

Rooney out
The Everton FC forward was ruled out last weekend after consultations between Everton and England doctors. Rooney has a knee injury, making him doubtful for the friendly against Serbia and Montenegro on 3 June which prefaces the home UEFA European Championship Group 7 qualifier against Slovakia eight days later.

Back in demand
Meanwhile, with defenders John Terry, Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge also unavailable, Gareth Barry of Aston Villa FC has earned a belated recall.

'Hungry' England
England have never lost against Thursday's opponents and Eriksson said his players would be approaching the game in the right frame of mind. "I am sure they are tired, but they look hungry and want to play football and that is good."

Behind the scenes
South Africa's frame of mind is uncertain. Ticket sales for the match have been slow, but if the onfield action is anything like the behind-the-scenes drama of the past week, then fans would be wise to snap them up. The South African federation suspended coach Ephraim Mashaba and replaced him with his predecessor Jomo Sono after Mashaba left out three high profile English-based players.

Radebe recall
Sono has since reinstated captain Lucas Radebe (Leeds United AFC), record scorer Shaun Bartlett (Charlton Athletic FC) and Quinton Fortune (Manchester United FC). And with Sono saying, "Lucas is a legend, he deserves this game", expect Radebe to make his 70th and last appearance for the hosts.

Scandinavian showdown
Compared with that clash of continents, Thursday's other friendly between Norway and Finland in Oslo is a much more local affair. But for coaches Nils Johan Semb and Antti Muurinen, the purpose will be the same: to prepare for upcoming UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifiers.

Missing links
Semb, whose Norway team top Group 2, has named an under-strength squad with Henning Berg, André Bergdølmo and John Carew all missing. However, youngsters Brede Hangeland and Magne Hoseth, a defender and left winger, should play while Ole Gunnar Solskjær could join Håvard Flo in attack.

Crucial contests
Fredrik Winsnes is the likely replacement for midfield player Tommy Svindal Larsen who has a ligament injury. Crucially, Svindal Larsen, the 1. FC Nürnberg captain, will skip Norway's matches against their main group rivals Denmark in Copenhagen on 7 June, and Romania at home four days later.

Other commitments
Semb's opposite number Muurinen is also without key players as Finland warm up for Group 9 tests against Serbia and Montenegro and Italy. With both qualifiers taking place in Helsinki, they are matches the Finns must win if they are to catch group leaders Wales. For Thursday's game, however, other commitments deprive the coach of captain Jari Litmanen and striker Mikaek Forssell. "This is not an international date so we can't get all our players," Muurinen said.

Last updated: 23/05/03 0.09CET

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