Who is the right man? Lennon, Walcott, Becks and SWP fighting for two places

15 October 2009 02:53
High jump: Wright-Phillips is last in line on the right wing despite his goal last night

There were as many nerves in the stands as on the pitch on auditionnight. The clock is ticking and England will play only another 180minutes before Fabio Capello names the 23 he will take to South Africa.

Emile Heskey applauded from the bench as Peter Crouch scored twiceand Michael Owen looked on as his chances of an international returnappeared to recede further.

Theo Walcott, too. This time last year, he was the darling of the nation after his hat-trick in Croatia.

Even now, it remains the pivotal moment of the entirequalifying campaign because it restored belief inside England'sdressing room.

Last night, Walcott was among those invited towatch by Capello as a gesture of inclusion. But perhaps the managerwanted to meddle with emotions; to make sure those looking down on theWembley pitch felt the urge to be part of it again.

Walcott'splace in the World Cup squad can no longer be taken for granted.Competition is fierce on the right wing. David Beckham would be abanker if Steve Bruce were picking the team. Bruce named Beckham as hisman of the match last night, even though he played only the last 35minutes.

It seemed ridiculous but Becks did what Becks does andmanagers, like Bruce and, presumably, Capello, appreciate it. He liftedthe tempo and gave England better rhythm. He crossed the ball well, asever, and hit a post. Whether that made him the best player on thefield is another matter.

Total touches 51: The goal was the highlight for Manchester City's winger, who managed 21 accurate passesout of 25, giving him an 84% success rate. Also he had three tackles

He seemed a little embarrassed to receive the award. But the crowd loved it and Beckham must have gone some way to allay Capello's fears that he was tired.

If Beckham is a genuine contender on the right, it makes the England manager's task tricky. In all probability he will take only two wingers, maybe two plus Beckham if he believes the 115-cap man can deputise in the centre of midfield.

Aaron Lennon dashed to the head of the queue with a blistering display against Croatia but was hooked after 15 minutes in Ukraine to make way for David James after Robert Green's red card.

But inconsistency is common with the Spurs speed merchant andsometimes the game drifts by him. This was one of those occasions.England's driving force against Croatia was the reward. A win booked aplace in South Africa and Capello's England have proved they cannotfind their edge when there is nothing much at stake.

They showedenough spirit with 10 men in Dnipropetrovsk but it is no coincidencethat the 100 per cent winning record disappeared as soon asqualification was secure. As his team struggled to inject urgency intotheir play against Belarus, Capello flapped his arms and slumped deeperinto his seat.

Stuart Pearce was sent out to the touchline to administer the kickup the backside. Fans resorted to the Mexican Wave. It was a far cryfrom the smoke and fire of Ukraine. In this tepid atmosphere, playersseemed unable to left themselves. Shaun Wright-Phillips did not manageit, despite finding the net in the second half, and must be consideredthe last in the line of right wingers.


Total touches 30: Not as potent as against Croatia but the Tottenhamwinger still made 11 out of his14 passes to deliver an accuracy success rate of 79%. Just the one tackle.

James Milner did catchthe eye out of position at left back. His jinking run and body swervelate in the game deserved to lead to his first England goal, but hiscurling shot thudded against the inside of a post. Capello is already aMilner fan. He likes his attitude and versatility, a quality whichcomes into its own as a tournament looms closer.

Walcott, however, needs to get back into action. He has just returnedfor Arsenal after a side strain and will be keen to be part of theEngland team who take on Brazil in Qatar next month.

Amid the nail-biting of those on the fringes, there was relief for RioFerdinand, who will be one of the first names picked for South Africa.

Ferdinand won his 76th England cap against Belarus but found himself under closer scrutiny than in the five years since his return from a ban for missing a drug test. Capello would have liked to give him a breather but, after two private conversations, the wise Italian felt it more important for the Manchester United defender to cleanse Saturday's error in Ukraine from the system.

For the most part, he played it safe and simple. Occasionally he launched the ball aimlessly in Crouch's general direction. Depressing as that was, the key was to survive without another blunder. Survive he did and Capello must hope his defender's confidence is restored before next summer.

 England player ratings: Who staked a claim for a place on the plane to South AfricaEngland 3 Belarus 0: Spiderman is a superhero. but Capello still to be convincedAs it happened: England finish top of their World Cup group with victory over Belarus

 Explore more:People:Rio Ferdinand, Stuart Pearce, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Robert Green, Steve Bruce, Michael Owen, Theo Walcott, Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch, James Milner, Fabio Capello, David Beckham, Aaron Lennon, David JamesPlaces:Croatia, Brazil, South Africa, United Kingdom, Qatar

Source: Daily_Mail