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Hodgson's choice for Brazil is part fixed but part fluid

THERE are still dilemmas for Roy Hodgson to think through.

Tonight's friendly is an important part of the England manager's World Cup preparations
Tonight's friendly is an important part of the England manager's World Cup preparations

The 66-year-old has worked with an air of resigned pragmatism since becoming England manager, a useful mood when the tendency of the national team's supporters is to lurch towards over-expectation. He will approach the business of finalising his squad for the World Cup finals in Brazil with the same sense of measured resolve.

The spine of his team is, barring injuries, established, but there are enough quandaries left to keep Hodgson musing. He already knows, for instance, that Joe Hart will be his first-choice goalkeeper in the summer but Ben Foster will start against Denmark in tonight's friendly at Wembley, while Celtic's Fraser Forster and John Ruddy are in the frame for the other two places in the squad. At centre-back, too, it is the potential of injuries that troubles Hodgson, since he is set on taking Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to Brazil. Steven Caulker could play against the Danes, though, with Jagielka and Jones both nursing minor injuries.

Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge are all guaranteed to start for England in the summer, but it is the moulding of the team - in terms of its balance rather than its shape - that Hodgson needs to ponder. Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker are both attack-minded full-backs, and the former will start against Denmark, but on the left there is more of a contrast.

Leighton Baines has looked comfortable at international level, so the choice is between taking Ashley Cole, who is out of favour at Chelsea and in the closing stages of his career, or Luke Shaw, the Southampton tyro who has become one of the most coveted young English players of the moment, as back-up. Shaw could well feature tonight following his first call-up as Hodgson assesses his potential against his inexperience.

In midfield, the choice centres on who will partner Gerrard and there has been a growing interest in allowing Jordan Henderson an opportunity, since he and Gerrard work so effectively together for Liverpool. Even so, Michael Carrick and Jack Wilshere remain the most likely candidates to play at the base of the midfield behind Rooney.

That then leaves Hodgson with the question of his wide players. He likes James Milner's industry, application and versatility, and the same can be said of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Adam Lallana of Southampton can play on either flank, in the same way as Tottenham Hotspur's Andros Townsend can. Raheem Sterling, of Liverpool, is probably the form English winger in the Barclays Premier League at the moment, while Jay Rodriguez's form for Southamption brought a call-up and he could yet play his way into the squad for Brazil.

The current 30-man group contains the players most likely to feature but Hodgson has urged the likes of Andy Carroll, Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson not to give up hope. As much as there is a core of experience and versatility to the squad, there is also room for others to make the final cut.

England will be among the second tier of leading nations at the World Cup, and Hodgson is investigating every area of weakness. Penalty shoot-outs remain a neurosis and Hodgson has brought in Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist who worked with the British cyclists who performed so successfully at the Olympics, to aid his players. Having worked with Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, Peters brings a pedigree the players will respect as they prepare for a group that pits them against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

For Hodgson, the process of whittling down his options begins tonight.

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