By Joe Harker
England are in the midst of an international break featuring friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
Manager Gareth Southgate was hoping for the chance to test his strongest team against quality opposition and give a few promising youngsters a chance to be included in the squad that will go to Russia.
However, plenty of players have dropped out due to injury, although many suspect that they are simply taking the time to rest and recuperate ahead of upcoming club games. Some players have minor issues that could benefit from resting for a week or two, so Southgate has had to turn to some new faces.
The Independent describe the situation as a "farce", with so many players that do not appear to be seriously injured withdrawing from the squad. Some of these players are pulling out to concentrate on their own fitness, which is not a problem, but it messes up Southgate's plans to get a handle on his squad before the World Cup. The team he plays in the friendlies is unlikely to be the one he wants to have for the opening game of the group stage in Russia.
With so many players out with flimsy injuries, the Daily Mirror wonders whether it has made a "mockery" of the friendlies themselves. International football is often criticised for games where the gulf in quality is too large and players may not be too interested in friendlies, but most would want to test themselves against the likes of Brazil and Germany. Perhaps those nations will also be fielding a weaker or more experimental side, but they may not need the opportunity to field a settled XI and give it a test against a top international team.
The silver lining in this situation is the opportunity it could provide to other players. Southgate found some success introducing Harry Winks to the England team and the chance to play some new faces could surprise people and open up a new option. Some players who are considered unlikely to make it to Russia could use this chance to change Southgate's mind and play their way into contention.
The players pulling out of the squad may have very good reasons to do so. Footballers are often carrying injuries that they can play through, but an international break with two friendlies gives them a rare chance to make some progress recovering from their injuries. The players may be happy to turn out for their countries but in the long term they might benefit more from sitting out a couple of games.