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Rivers-Shooting clash lights up Port Harcourt

By ESPN Staff

McClaren defends 'pointless' Austria friendly clash

England boss Steve McClaren has refuted suggestions Friday's friendly against Austria is pointless.

Having arranged the match in Vienna as part of the build-up to the potentially crucial European Championship qualifier against Croatia, McClaren now finds himself in the difficult position of not knowing whether he is preparing a team for the biggest match of his managerial career or attempting face-saving exercise to accompany the massive let-down of a failure to reach a major championship for the first time since 1994.

McClaren will not know the answer until Saturday night, when Russia hope to have gained a win in Israel that will effectively knock England out.

But the under-fire boss remains defiant the game against Josef Hickersberger's side is necessary to deflect attention away from the Croatia game.

'The game is there for two reasons,' he said. 'Firstly, we needed some kind of preparation for Croatia, so we had a chance to look at a few things.

'Also, if we do have players like David Beckham and Ashley Cole, or others who have not played all that often for their clubs, it is an opportunity to give them a game.

'It would also be good to make sure the 10 days is not solely focused on Croatia.

'Nevertheless, I wouldn't say what we do on Friday will definitely be what we do on Wednesday.'

McClaren admitted he would have no hesitation in asking Micah Richards to solve his central defensive crisis in the two games.

Rio Ferdinand's suspension has ruled him out of the double-header, while McClaren has confirmed there will be no last-minute call to check on John Terry's knee injury, even if events in Tel Aviv on Saturday throw the Three Lions a qualification lifeline.

With Sol Campbell a virtual certainty to keep his place after a competent performance against Russia in Moscow last month, the debate now surrounds who will line up alongside the veteran Portsmouth man.

One possibility, Liverpool's Jamie Carragher, is denied to England by his recent international retirement, so McClaren was at Stamford Bridge yesterday to see Joleon Lescott hold his own against Didier Drogba.

Having showed plenty of faith in the Everton man by handing him a first start in Russia, albeit at left-back, the 25-year-old is an option.

But despite Richards' relative inexperience, McClaren will not rule the 19-year-old out of the position on age grounds.

'I would have no hesitation in playing Micah Richards in central defence,' said McClaren.

'We played him there for one half against Germany and he did well and his performances there for Manchester City have been impressive.'