Roy Hodgson has moved to reject claims that it has never been easier to earn selection for the full England squad. Nineteen-year-old midfielder Dele Alli is expected to earn his first senior international start tonight (12 October) as the Three Lions head to Vilnius for their final Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania, despite having spent the majority of his fledgling career to date in League One, and making only six starts in all competitions since joining Tottenham from the MK Dons, as well as appearing for the U21s just twice.
Fellow first-time call-up Danny Ings could also play some part on an artificial surface at the Lithuanian Football Federation (LFF) Stadium, after recovering from an ankle injury that ruled him out of the routine 2-0 victory over Estonia last week. Captain Wayne Rooney is among a group of five senior players absent from the trip to Eastern Europe with qualification long since secured. And although the likes of Alli have impressed in the top flight this term, many have questioned the merits of fast-tracking young talent quite so quickly.
"It's never been easier to win an England call-up," former Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher wrote in a recent column for The Mail. "If anyone doubted that, Roy Hodgson's latest squad proved how quickly a young player can be elevated.
"Dele Alli's inclusion in the group for the games against Lithuania and Estonia was the selection which caused eyebrows to be raised. After three Premier League starts for Tottenham and two Under 21 caps, suddenly Alli has been presented with a chance to stake his claim to go to Euro 2016. Don't take this as a criticism of Alli or Danny Ings, who has also been given a first senior call. It isn't. They are young players with potential, who have made good starts to the season and it is easy to understand why Hodgson wants to look at them in two fixtures free from pressure."
Hodgson has dismissed any notion that he has been too quick to hand out senior caps, however, pointing to injuries sustained by Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph as opening the door to the likes of Alli to stake their claim for a regular place ahead of next summer's tournament in France.
"With Dele Alli, you have to bear in mind the number of injuries we've had," he said at a press conference, as reported by Sky Sports. "People like Dele come in because an opportunity has opened up for them with others moved aside. I think you have to be careful with those sorts of comments because I don't think it's a situation where the moment you kick the ball correctly from A to B you'll get in the England team. It's not like that at all."
Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, Michael Carrick and James Milner are the other senior players who have not made the journey to Lithuania. Hodgson has promised a "very interesting" team selection, with fringe candidates such as Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland, Phil Jones, Alli, Jonjo Shelvey and Jamie Vardy expected to be tasked with the challenge of ensuring that England do not lose their 100% record at the top of Group E. Everton captain Phil Jagielka will lead out his country for the very first time on his 38th cap.
Lithuania can boast Watford summer signing Giedrius Arlauskis and Deimantas Petravičius of Nottingham Forest among their ranks, but Igoris Pankratjevas' side are highly unlikely to book a play-off place given they currently lie fifth going into the final fixtures. With Swizerland booking their place at the Euros last week, Slovenia currently sit third ahead of Estonia and are unlikely to drop any points away to San Marino having beaten them 6-0 in Ljubljana.