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Sturridge to lead line in first start for England against Ireland


Daniel Sturridge

DANIEL STURRIDGE'S excellent Liverpool form is likely to be rewarded against the Republic of Ireland tomorrow with his first senior start for England.

With 11 goals and five assists in 16 matches since leaving Chelsea in January, Sturridge is enjoying the most prolific period of his career and was trialled during England training yesterday in a striker's role alongside Wayne Rooney.

Sturridge's previous five England caps were all as a substitute but, with Danny Welbeck only training in the gym yesterday and Jermain Defoe struggling for form, he is expected to be given a rare opportunity in his preferred central attacking position.

England manager Roy Hodgson also spent around five minutes talking individually with Sturridge after a training session at St George's Park yesterday that was watched by 150 of the fans who were inconvenienced by the postponement of the World Cup qualifying match against Poland in Warsaw last October.

Hodgson used the session to focus on a series of scenarios that encouraged the full-backs and Frank Lampard to break forward and join Sturridge and Rooney in attack.

Lampard looked especially sharp and scored a goal from next to the halfway line. Phil Jagielka was partnered at centre-back in training yesterday by Gary Cahill while Michael Carrick is likely to start tomorrow alongside Lampard in central midfield.

Ashley Cole has been offered the chance to captain the team against the Republic of Ireland in recognition of his achievement in reaching 100 caps, and a presentation on the Wembley pitch will be made in his honour before the game.

The strong expectation, however, is that Cole will pass up the captaincy offer. Cole seldom talks to the media and the English FA expects its captain to conduct a pre-match press conference, although he might be permitted to simply lead the team out on to the pitch tomorrow night.

With Steven Gerrard unavailable due to a shoulder operation, Lampard will almost certainly captain the team tomorrow should he start. Rooney would be third in line for the armband behind Gerrard and Lampard.

Meanwhile, Rafael Benitez has been appointed as the new coach of Napoli, club president Aurelio de Laurentiis announced on his Twitter feed last night. The Spaniard, who has left Chelsea following his spell as interim manager at Stamford Bridge, will replace Walter Mazzarri at the Stadio San Paolo this summer.

De Laurentiis tweeted a picture of himself shaking hands with Benitez on his verified Twitter account, and wrote: "Rafa Benitez is the new coach of Napoli. A great man with international experience. A leader."

Last night's announcement ends speculation about Benitez taking over at either Real Madrid, Everton or Stoke.