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England

50-50 Challenge: Scotland vs. England

50-50 Challenge
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 By Nick Miller

Five talking points heading into the international break

ESPN FC's Alejandro Moreno, Craig Burley and Paul Mariner share the matchups they'll be watching during the upcoming slate of international friendlies.

Club action shifts into the background this week as most nations regroup for the first time after the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Here's five things to look out for during the international break.

What will England's brave new world look like?

For years, after every below-par England performance, there would be an instinctive call for the old guard to be dropped, for the 'golden generation' to be consigned to the smelter and for new, younger players to take their place.

The under-performance of the national side infuriated fans and critics alike, but now we are about to see what life really is like without the established stars of the England team.

With the retirement of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and before them Ashley Cole, only Wayne Rooney remains of that feted group, around him a collection of new, young stars who have thus far hinted at a troublingly familiar tendency to not replicate their fine club form at the international level.

- Hodgson: English youngsters not getting enough chances
- Wenger: Calum Chambers has the quality for England

In theory, a midfield containing Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling, supporting Daniel Sturridge up front, should be a pretty threatening line-up, but when it comes to the England football team, theories (and indeed logic) are not always present.

Roy Hodgson has said that none of the new call-ups to his squad (Jack Colback, Calum Chambers, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose) will start Wednesday's friendly against Norway, and although Colback is injured, it does make one wonder exactly what the point of bringing them into the squad was if not to give them a decent chance to impress.

This is a clean slate, a new beginning for England, and if Hodgson believes the men he has selected are good enough for international football, why not give them a chance in an essentially meaningless game?

Perhaps Hodgson doesn't want too much change too soon, but it will be interesting to see how the England boss negotiates this transition.

Roy Hodgson has explained why he named Wayne Rooney as the new England captain following Steven Gerrard's retirement from international football. Courtesy of FATV.

How will Roy Hodgson bring back the 'feel-good' factor to England?

"There are things you can't guarantee and wanting it doesn't guarantee you are going to get it," Hodgson said ahead of the Norway game.

"Of course, we would all very, very much like to get two good results now, starting with tomorrow night and get that feel-good factor."

The England manager is quite right to want people to enjoy watching England again, although with reports that Wembley will only be half-full indicates that there is an apathy surrounding the national team that only some truly extraordinary performances will solve.

Obviously another way to look at a crowd of 40,000 for an international friendly would be to marvel that such a number is considered a disappointment, and that attendances in the past have been remarkable, but it does indicate a waning interest in England.

Hodgson claimed England had given the traveling fans "something to cheer" in their final group game during the World Cup, a fairly laughable statement given they had gone out and only managed to draw with the expected whipping boys of the group, highlighting that Hodgson's public utterances can often be pretty ludicrous. One way to start getting the public back on side would be a couple of brave, rousing performances.

We shall see if they emerge.

ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop gives his take on Xabi Alonso's retirement from international football.

What will we see from Spain?

If England have a rebuilding job to do, then in Spain the task is tenfold.

Vicente del Bosque is still in charge, but many of the players that made them perhaps the greatest international side of all time will not be around. "This is a squad for the present but designed to look towards the future," Del Bosque said after omitting Fernando Torres and Juan Mata from his squad this week, joining the retired Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Villa as members of the proud old guard no longer part of Spain's present, and probably future too.

Dani Carvajal, Raúl Garcia, Kiko Casilla, Mikel San Jose and Paco Alcacer could all win their first caps against France on Thursday, while the likes of Marc Bartra and Ander Iturraspe, who almost went to the World Cup, have been recalled.

Spain are perhaps the most interesting team in international football at the moment, given that they're trying to introduce change and implement a new way of playing while keeping the same coach.

Perhaps there would have been too much upheaval had Del Bosque departed along with Xavi et al, but they seem to be a team of conflicting purposes. The new era begins this week.

Head Coach Joachim Loew has announced Bastian Schweinsteiger as his new captain and says the team's next target is the Euro 2016 final in Paris.

How will Germany react after winning the World Cup?

Three of Germany's World Cup winning squad -- Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm -- have retired since coming home from Brazil, and frankly one wonders why more haven't.

After all, where do you go from here? How could you top winning the World Cup in Brazil, after demolishing the hosts in the semifinal? Perhaps only by winning it on home soil, and that won't be happening anytime soon.

The players that remain begin life as world champions against the same Argentina side they beat in Rio, which would be like showboating if this game hadn't been arranged months ago, and it will be interesting to see how Joachim Low's side react to being the top dogs of world football.

The replacement for Klose is an old familiar face, Mario Gomez, called up largely because there isn't really anyone else around for the centre-forward spot -- it certainly wasn't because of his recent record, because he spent most of last season out injured, scoring three goals in nine games.

One wonders whether Low will select Gomez as a direct replacement, mindful that his team looked much more balanced in Brazil with a focal point, or revert to the 'false-nine' approach that produced inconsistent results.

Lahm's absence will be keenly felt as well, not least because he was their best player in at least three positions. Whether he played at full-back or defensive midfield, the Bayern Munich man was an inspirational captain, falling very much in the 'lead by example camp' of skippers, but now a new man will take that role.

Bastian Schweinsteiger was named as Low's new leader this week, and while the midfielder seemed the natural choice, he will have huge boots to fill. The turnover in this German squad has not been enormous in terms of personnel, but significant pieces of the World Cup winning side have been removed, and Low faces a tough task to replace them.

Will Shay Given add to his mountain of caps?

Shay Given last played for Ireland in 2012, retiring after the European Championships, and last started a top-flight league game in the same year. Since then he has had to settle for the odd League Cup game, and a loan spell with Middlesbrough, but perhaps inspired by this inactivity, he came out of international retirement and is in Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland squad for their games this week.

"I didn't want to look back in 10 years and think I could have done another campaign," he said of his return to the fold. "Maybe I would have regretted that. I just felt there was a bit of unfinished business and I felt I could still offer something to the country so it was great to get the call from Martin."

Shay Given hasn't represented Ireland since 2012.

If Given plays against Oman, he will win his 126th international cap, which if Robbie Keane doesn't play (he's an injury doubt) will draw the 38-year-old keeper level with his captain for the record number of Ireland appearances.

For a couple of years it has looked like an excellent career was going to peter out rather sadly, Given either sitting on the bench at Aston Villa or shuttling around various other clubs on loan, but if he can perform creditably for his country once again and perhaps help them to Euro 2016, then it will be a more fitting way for him to bow out.

Nick Miller

Nick Miller is a freelance football writer for Football365, ESPN FC, The Guardian, Eurosport, Betfair and a number of other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.

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