Early Doors

Pre-emptive capping a reality of modern game

Wilfried Zaha is eligible for both England and Ivory Coast

Eyebrows were raised at the decision to call promising Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha into the England squad for tonight's 'meaningless' friendly against Sweden.

Not because Zaha isn't a promising talent — he is at around the same level as former Palace team-mate Victor Moses just before he moved to Wigan, more on him later.

An England cap should be an honour, well-earned through years of graft or awarded to genuine and proven talent, say the detractors.

The eyebrows have been raised because, at this stage, he is a Championship winger at a time when England have plenty of experienced top-flight options for wide attacking positions.

Wide attacking options that do not include Chelsea forward Moses, who like Zaha was born in Africa but raised in London and ultimately allowed himself to be swayed by Nigeria before the full extent of his talent was revealed.

Zaha is not alone in being cajoled into the senior England set-up. Carl Jenkinson has represented Finland at U21 level, while Raheem Sterling is Jamaican-born.

While Jenkinson and Sterling are Premier League starters, they are being selected by Roy Hodgson on the basis of potential, and to ensure they do not become unavailable for England on the basis of a decision made as a youngster.

Zaha himself admitted that it is a difficult decision, and that Ivory Coast's main man Didier Drogba made a personal call to try to convince him to represent the Elephants.

No doubt the reader comments following this article will contain some unsavoury missives from EDL sympathisers unable to grasp the concept of dual nationality, despite being genetically Belgian.

But any reasonable-minded person will sympathise with the wrench Zaha faces: his heart his Ivorian, but his mind is English.

Whatever decision he makes will be the right one for him, although there will be criticism on both sides whichever route he takes.

One person who should be immune from criticism in this case is Hodgson.

England have seen rivals Germany, France and even Spain use foreign-born players to great effect. There are countless examples, including Miroslav Klose (Poland), Marcos Senna (Brazil) and a legion of double World and European champions such as Patrick Vieira (Senegal) and Marcel Desailly (Ghana). Reports that Andres Iniesta was born on Mars are yet to be confirmed.

England's fans and detractors alike are keen to point out a dearth of natural talent in the domestic game, particularly with respect to dribblers and passers of the ball. Furthermore, it is a reality of globalisation and of London's status as one of the world's economic centres that talented athletes will be foreign-born (Zaha, Sterling), or born to mixed parentage (Jenkinson).

It's not like Zaha moved to England as an 18-year-old and, like Senna or Germany's Cacau, is simply looking to enhance his career by switching allegiances. It's not like he is a jobbing English-born pro in his mid-20s who has given up on representing his homeland and has plumped for Ireland or Jamaica.

He has a genuine and legitimate claim on both nationalities. Think of him as a Mo Farah, with a somewhat more enticing secondary option.

Given he has come through the English system, it would be negligent not to lock Zaha into the national team set-up, or to at least ensure he is aware that England values him. A similar tactic was employed with Danny Welbeck, who was eligible to play for Ghana, and he is one of England's more effective strikers.

Welbeck aside, the 'loss' of Moses should be evidence enough that there is no room for sentiment in the modern game.

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AFC Wimbledon will play Milton Keynes Dons for the first time in their short history after beating Cambridge City in their FA Cup first-round replay.

For those unaware of the history of English football's lower reaches, MK Dons are The Club Formerly Known As Wimbledon (or 'TCFKAW'), a Crazy Gang of jobbing semi-pros who rose from non-league to the top division, won an FA Cup and terrified those soft northern pansies with their long balls and their elbows.

As the economic reality of being a small club with a small ground kicked in, Wimbledon slid down the divisions and took the radical decision to re-franchise and relocate to Milton Keynes, 56-odd miles away from their home.

Local fans were furious, boycotting the club and setting up a new team in the leafy South West London's home of tennis. A team that started in the largely amateur ranks before shooting up to League Two, where they sit a division below their Darth Vader-style father and nemesis.

Ten years on and the two clubs will face off for the first time. You'd think AFC Wimbledon fans would be excited at the chance to get one over on the evil Death Star?

Not on your nelly.

"This has reopened a lot of scars," Simon Wheeler, chairman of the Independent Wimbledon Supporters Association, said. We never wanted this to happen and frankly I feel numb.

"I won't be going and I know lots of other fans won't be going. Personally I would rather take my girlfriend's mother to the garden centre than go to that game.

"Other fans will have to take a long look at themselves and make a personal, informed decision. We'll talk to the fans and to the club.

"We didn't ever want this to happen but it does highlight the phenomenal success of AFC Wimbledon from having had everything ripped out.

"MK Dons might say how much they are looking forward to the game but actually they are probably rather embarrassed.

"The frenzy of support (MK chairman) Pete Winkelman had envisaged has not materialised and frankly they have an identity crisis. They still call themselves Dons, not Milton Keynes.

"But we have to fulfil the fixture. I believe a group of AFC Wimbledon players will play the game then get back on the bus to Wimbledon and carry on with our season. The result does not matter. We've already won just by being in the Football League."

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Leon Osman is the odd one out, he's a bit different. He has been performing regularly and well for Everton but has been passed over. I thought it was time to give him a chance because he has been one of the unsung heroes of a very good football club and a very good football team for many years. He is a very energetic player. And the fact he is 31 surprises me because he plays like a much younger man. Let's hope that continues and I won't have to worry about his birth certificate" — age ain't nothing but a number to Roy Hodgson. One think he never had to worry about was Osman electing to play for Turkey or Cyprus, for whom he was eligible. Osman is very much an Englishman.

FOREIGN VIEW: "The best thing to take on Spain would be to allow us to play with 22 players instead of 11. Against Spain it is absurd to think of it as just another day and just another team. You can't take them head on. Everything we try to do in games will have to doubled. Twice the attention, the concentration, the effort, helping each other out and so on" — Panama coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdes adopts a realistic approach to their match with Spain.

COMING UP: International friendlies tonight, with England in a 'rare' clash with Sweden in their new stadium, Ireland hosting former European champions Greece (yes, ED is trying to find value in this), Northern Ireland hosting the mighty Azerbaijan and managerless Scotland looking for a creditable draw at Luxembourg. Make it stop.