Parker happy to be older head
Such is the transformation Fabio Capello has presided over since the debacle of South Africa that it is possible only four members of the team which started the infamous World Cup last-16 hammering by Germany 16 months ago will retain their places for Friday's match. Most bring with them the air of youthful exuberance. Whether it be 24-year-old goalkeeper Joe Hart, striker Danny Welbeck, who is not yet 21, or Tottenham defender Kyle Walker, who is yet to win a senior cap, the freshness is evident everywhere. In one sense, Parker does not belong in the same category. After all, he is a decade older than Welbeck. However, with just seven appearances to his name, the Tottenham midfielder shares the same innocence. And he too is not haunted by the memories of previous failures. "It is clear to see there are a lot of very good young players coming in," he said. "People talk about my age, but you could probably include me in that. "I haven't got a lot of experience at international level. I am 30 and one of the oldest in the squad, but I am new to this as well." And the brutal truth is, more than Welbeck or Walker, or even Gary Cahill - who has flitted around the England squad for a while - Parker cannot afford to let this chance slip away. His eye-catching performances at West Ham might have drawn plenty of plaudits, but until the February friendly in Denmark, Capello remained unmoved. Parker was called into England's 30-man provisional World Cup squad but was jettisoned without featuring in matches against Mexico and Japan. A reasonably phlegmatic character, the former Charlton star privately believed his international dreams were over, but when the Copenhagen call came, he felt there was nothing to lose. "I knew I needed to give it a rip," he said. "Obviously I impressed the manager a little bit to get the start against Wales which was massive for me." The game in Cardiff was a bitter-sweet occasion anyway. "That Wales game came a week after my dad died, so there were obviously issues with the way I was feeling going into it," he said. "I had a bit of a shoulder injury. I had a thing with my toe as well. But you know what? Any one of those lads would have done anything to play. "It was a very good game and a massive stand-out for me." Parker's performance in a two-goal triumph seemed to confirm in Capello's mind what others had been saying for so long, namely the midfield anchor he had laughingly suggested Jack Wilshere could be was available to him after all. It is unfortunate Wilshere's continuing injury worries have prevented England from maximising the potential from Parker's involvement. However, his disciplined approach to the game does offer others a chance to attack and when England opened up in Bulgaria last month, no-one was wondering who would be hanging around at the other end to tidy up if things went wrong. That performance in Sofia set a standard England will need to match on a regular basis to start punching their weight at international level, although lifting the burden of expectation is no bad thing anyway. "I can only speak for myself I suppose, but as a kid I only ever wanted to play for England," Parker said. "The pressure and the spotlight can affect people in different ways, but there is an excitement and a buzz in the dressing room. "You get that with young players because they are new to it. They haven't experienced disappointments in the past, which could be a massive plus." Although he was a detached observer to what transpired in South Africa, Parker is acutely aware England have impressed in qualifying before only to collapse spectacularly when the prize was up for grabs. And he knows if England do collect the point required in Podgorica to complete an unbeaten eight-match run and seal a place in Poland and Ukraine, huge doubts will remain. "The true test comes in a tournament," he said. "We qualified very well last time but in South Africa it didn't go anywhere near to plan. "We always seem to qualify pretty well but we need to replicate that in a tournament. We certainly need to do better than we did in South Africa."