England understudies can shine in Qatar
England's shadow squad may only be the sideshow for the latest date on Brazil's world tour - but vital auditions will take place in Doha's Khalifa Stadium on Saturday.
Brazil's desire to play lucrative friendlies far from home means England's players are closer to Qatar's Singing Sand Dunes than Rio's Copacabana, but incentive is not something Fabio Capello's players should have to search for.
Capello's countdown to the World Cup started the moment the final whistle sounded on an impressive qualifying campaign with victory over Belarus at Wembley.
So while the names on Capello's team-sheet to face Dunga's Brazil may not evoke memories of classic past meetings between these two superpowers, the game represents an opportunity for some to play their way on to - or maybe off - the plane to South Africa next summer.
This game, with England's squad in much-reduced circumstances, cannot be used as an accurate measure of their World Cup aspirations, but there is enough riding on the outcome to provide an intriguing backdrop to the trip to Doha.
Capello may not learn much about his established England players, but with Aston Villa's James Milner confirming that every move is noted by the Italian's eagle eye, he will be attempting to detect vital signs from those he is still pondering for inclusion next summer.
Darren Bent is one who will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to confirm the faith of his Sunderland boss Steve Bruce - and indeed Tyneside legend Alan Shearer - that he can make a strong case to Capello by simply scoring goals.
Darren Bent has scored eight goals for Sunderland so far this season
Much has been made of what Bent does not do, particularly after an unfulfilling spell at Spurs when he failed to get regular football and drew unfavourable comparisons (in a football sense of course) with Harry Redknapp's wife - from Redknapp himself.
What Bent does do, and does with regularity, is score goals and as Shearer himself says, this is how strikers are ultimately judged.
Except that they are not, at least not by a succession of England coaches. Not where Emile Heskey is concerned.
Capello is the latest to persist with the use of Heskey - missing injured in Qatar - in the more or less certain knowledge that he cannot be relied upon to score goals at the highest level.
Bent has never proved himself in his fleeting international appearances, and the odds must still be stacked against him making England's World Cup squad with Capello signalling strongly that he will only take four specialist strikers to South Africa.
They are likely to be Wayne Rooney, Heskey, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch, although the latter may face a late challenge from Carlton Cole. Bent is the outsider and will have limited opportunities to change Capello's mind - not an easy task for at any time.
If he gets a chance against Brazil, it could be Bent's "now or never" moment with England and he will be straining to get into the action.
Bent's inclusion has its place in the wider context. It can be read, with justification, as another broad hint from Capello that unless Michael Owen turns the clock back several years his England career is behind him.
Capello is nobody's fool so he will never rule out Owen, but it is clear he will have to produce something out of the ordinary at Manchester United to make England's coach blink.
This is a mistake in my opinion because, as I have said before, Owen is the man you want that vital chance to fall to as opposed to Heskey. Capello, however, does not subscribe to the Shearer theory that the mark of a striker is goals so England are locked on to the Heskey gameplan.
And if Peter Crouch plays against Brazil, what an opportunity for him to answer charges that his impressive international goalscoring record is flattering because of the standard of opposition he has punished.
The argument may have merit, but there is also a rather large flaw exposed when the question is asked - how can he score against elite opponents when he rarely plays against them?
Few World Cup squads are complete without one name that almost comes from nowhere - although few have been as left field as when Sven-Goran Eriksson effectively selected Theo Walcott for a month's paid holiday in Baden-Baden in 2006.
So what are the odds on Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock being that man after Capello, who it is understood has been highly-impressed with his measured and mature performances, drafted him into his squad?
Warnock's England career amounts to eight minutes against Trinidad and Tobago almost 18 months ago, but suddenly the door is slightly ajar for him to push his way through.
How galling it must be for Liverpool that a player manager Rafael Benitez allowed to leave for Blackburn Rovers after an Anfield career curtailed by broken legs has developed into a left-back currently better than anyone he has on his books.
Stephen Warnock (left) hopes to force his way into Fabio Capello's World Cup plans
Ormskirk-born Warnock developed at Ewood Park and is now suggesting he will mature fully at 27 under the tutelage of Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa as part of a reconstructed defence.
Ashley Cole, injuries permitting, will be England's World Cup left-back, but with Wayne Bridge's form dipping desperately at Manchester City and Kieran Gibbs - a certain England star of the future - having to muscle his way past Gael Clichy at Arsenal, the opportunity to subdue Brazil's famed attacking talents provides quite a stage for Warnock if he gets his chance.
Manchester City's Joleon Lescott presents an alternative at left-back away from his natural central defensive role, but the player who looked so assured for so long at Everton is currently in a trough at Eastlands and has never truly adapted with England.
It is hard to see this being anything other than brief acquaintances with England for the returning Jermaine Jenas along with Spurs team-mate Tom Huddlestone, who has yet to make his debut.
But for Manchester United's Michael Carrick and Villa's James Milner, a fixture that has been regarded as a right royal pain in the neck by Premier League managers presents contrasting challenges.
For Carrick, it is a chance to restore some of the lustre he lost with a poor display in the defeat against Ukraine - and for Milner an opportunity to implant his ability and obvious versatility even further in the Capello psyche.
Milner has, in my opinion, every chance of making South Africa because he offers pace and crossing ability on both flanks with equal comfort and shows a maturity and composure that suggests he sits well with the pressures of international football.
Carrick may find he now has an uphill task with Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard more or less cemented into the heart of England's midfield.
The absence of David Beckham should be neither here not there, unless he would have given fresh impetus to England's 2018 World Cup bid on important voting territory in Qatar, because as I have stated previously I do not think he should be in South Africa.
Rio Ferdinand's absence may offer opportunities for Bolton's Gary Cahill and Manchester United's Wes Brown - and once again the spotlight will be on England's goalkeepers.
If Capello's potential World Cup squad has a soft underbelly this is it. Every game between now and the day he names his squad will indeed be an audition for candidates who have yet to deliver compelling evidence that they are cut out for this most vital role.
Every move will be heavily scrutinised and every error will be dissected, as it should, for weaknesses that could pull the rug out from under England's World Cup campaign in South Africa.
Capello appears to have underscored the fact that Manchester United's Ben Foster and West Ham's Robert Green will be the understudies to Portsmouth veteran David James.
He has always been keen to look at Joe Hart, but I would prefer Blackburn's Paul Robinson to be in the squad at the expense of Foster. Rest assured this debate will occupy much of England's time over coming months.
So while the result may not carry huge significance as a gauge to England's World Cup hopes, short-term battles won in front of 39,000 fans in Qatar might pave the way to long-term goals for some.
When England meet Brazil it is never without meaning - whether battle commences in Rio, Wembley or Doha.
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