Rio Ferdinand has done a lot of growing up with England. It was hard to believe, watching and listening to the captain discussing today's last significant World Cup warm-up match, against Japan in Austria, that this was the same individual who, along with Jamie Carragher, Frank Lampard and a rogue's gallery of several more, was sent straight home early by Peter Taylor, 13 years ago, after a late night of indiscretion before the Under-21s' 1-0 win over Italy.
It is why Ferdinand watched Glenn Hoddle's side qualify for the 1998 finals from the confines of an airport lounge. International life got worse before it got better for a player who prepares for the Japan challenge with the knowledge of how it feels to be on both sides of the lines with England.
There was a fairly bitter experience with Hoddle and company in France in 1998, when he did not enjoy a single minute of football. "In one game Paul Ince pretended to be injured and I got stripped and warmed up, but then he decided he was ok," Ferdinand recalled recently. "I said to him that he could have given me a minute at the World Cup because I thought I'd never get a chance again." Then came his omission from Kevin Keegan's squad for Euro 2000.
These sobering experiences bestow upon Ferdinand a knowledge of how difficult this weekend will be for the players who, in the clear air of the Austrian Alps in the past few days, have developed an equally clear impression that they have their work cut out to make it to Fabio Capello's squad of 23, which will be named on Tuesday.
Ferdinand doesn't name them, but Scott Parker, Michael Dawson, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole – none of whom appeared at Wembley against the Mexicans last Monday – all have plenty to do. Each will be looking anxiously to Capello at the UPC Arena in Austria's second city today for a nod, a gesture, any sign that their moment to demonstrate something to him has arrived.
Cole, above all, is the individual whose stomach will be in knots: he looked a certainty for South Africa 12 months ago but now has perhaps 45 minutes to demonstrate that he can be a match-winner. Wright-Phillips is not far behind him: an individual who missed out four years ago and has even mentally prepared which DVDs to take with him for four or five weeks away (Band of Brothers and Pacific are part of the plan.)
None of these individuals knows how much chance they will have to demonstrate their worth, though it is understood that Capello will experiment in Austria, probably around the same 4-4-2 system he has adhered to throughout. Stephen Warnock, who probably had less expectation than any of the 30-man squad of being aboard the Virgin Atlantic Airbus on Tuesday, may start ahead of Leighton Baines, in line with a notion which Capello had after Baines' poor display against Mexico at Wembley. It seems likely to be one or the other of those two, rather than Ashley Cole, who will play today.
England's central midfield will have one, possibly two, new personnel from the James Milner/Michael Carrick combination that started against Mexico, with Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry missing tomorrow. It also seems that Emile Heskey, whose seven goals in 57 games pales so palpably in comparison with Peter Crouch's 21 in 38, will be given the chance to demonstrate to Capello why he should be given a last international hurrah operating with Wayne Rooney. It is unclear whether Cole, Wright-Phillips or Adam Johnson, whose six minutes at Wembley was a far shorter run-out than expected, will get more of an opportunity day.
Ferdinand says: I've been there, I've had that talk, that conversation, saying 'not experienced enough', 'not good enough', however they want to dress it up. I was left out for Euro 2000 and it took me that summer to get over it but I went back to training, was a better professional, trained harder and became a better player and I say that for the younger players [left out this time] to probably do that as well."