Wilfried Zaha agrees to join England squad for Sweden friendly

England Caps

The Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha was on Sunday night persuaded to accept a promotion from the England Under-21s into the senior squad for Wednesday's friendly in Sweden having initially considered rejecting the invitation for fear of jeopardising any future opportunity to play for the country of his birth, Ivory Coast.

Zaha, who turned 20 on Saturday, was called up by Roy Hodgson after Wayne Rooney withdrew from the party to play at the Friends Arena in Stockholm after sustaining an ankle injury that forced him off in Manchester United's win against Aston Villa on Saturday. Rooney was one of five players to drop out, being joined by Theo Walcott, Jonjo Shelvey, Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon.

Hodgson has also called up the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Tom Huddlestone, who has not been capped since May 2010. He and Zaha become the 47th and 48th players to be selected by the England manager since he took up the reins this year.

The Crystal Palace attacker had initially been sceptical over his involvement, unaware that he can feature for England in a friendly and still go on to represent the Ivory Coast if he so chooses. Zaha was born in Abidjan and moved to south London at the age of four with his parents and eight siblings and has since represented England's Under-19s and Under-21s, for whom he has five caps. Indeed, his tweet upon hearing confirmation of his inclusion – "Wow everything's happening so fast" – was a reflection of his concern upon hearing the news.

He had been included in Stuart Pearce's squad for Tuesday's match against Northern Ireland in Blackpool but, having taken a call from Didier Drogba only last week asking him whether he would be amenable to playing for Ivory Coast, even in next year's Africa Cup of Nations, the youngster had not anticipated having to make a decision about his international allegiance at this fledgling stage of his career.

It is understood Hodgson telephoned Zaha's representative on Sunday night while en route to Manchester to reassure him that the England management staff were keen to view Zaha's prodigious skills first-hand but that he could still play for the country of his birth. The player was due to be picked up from his home by a Football Association car at 5am on Monday morning and driven to Manchester to join the squad. .

Zaha, a graduate of Palace's successful youth academy, has been a revelation in the Championship over the past two seasons and has played a major role in propelling the club to the top of the table with an unbeaten run that stretches to 13 matches. He becomes the first outfield player from the second tier to be involved under Hodgson having maintained his recent impressive form in Saturday's 2-1 victory at Peterborough. The home manager, Darren Ferguson, reaffirmed after that game that Zaha was "the best player outside the Premier League", the winger having attracted scouts from several top-flight clubs, notably Arsenal and Spurs.

The England set-up faced similar concerns over Raheem Sterling, who is wanted by Jamaica, but Hodgson is confident both players will be convinced to commit to England in the long term. Indeed, the national manager has already talked Carl Jenkinson out of pursuing a career with Finland and has received the necessary paperwork from Fifa to allow the Arsenal full-back to be granted his first opportunity with the senior side in Stockholm.

Hodgon was an anxious figure at Stamford Bridge for Liverpool's game against Chelsea. Steven Gerrard expects to be fit enough to win his 100th cap, despite damaging his left knee, but Shelvey misses the friendly with a thigh injury sustained in training last week.

Hodgson has also lost Walker and Lennon after Spurs' defeat at Manchester City and had sought to include Jermain Defoe, only for the striker also to be ruled out with injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also contacted but is not match fit and his club-mate Walcott has succumbed to a glute muscle injury. England's medical staff will examine Leighton Baines' ankle but are hopeful he will be fit, with Jenkinson's inclusion leaving Hodgson with a squad of 24 players.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dominic Fifield and Daniel Taylor, for The Guardian on Sunday 11th November 2012 23.00 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

image: © Ben Sutherland

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch