Paul Merson has been called up for England's decisive World Cup Group Two qualifying match against Italy in Rome on Saturday. The Middlesbrough midfielder replaces the injured Newcatle player Robert Lee. The former Highbury favourite won the last of his 15 caps as a substitute in the 1-0 Wembley defeat by Italy last February, when he replaced Steve McManaman after 75 minutes.
He had been widely tipped to start that game - but instead Glenn Hoddle picked Matthew Le Tissier. The England coach watched the Southampton playmaker step up his comeback in the 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday, but he has decided he is not yet ready for a recall and instead has plucked Merson out of the First Division.
The Boro manager, Bryan Robson, is delighted for the player who has struggled to settle in the North-east after being lined up as Juninho's replacement. "He's had his problems and we're doing all we can to help him," Robson said. "He's been doing himself justice on the field and getting called up for England is great for him. I'm really pleased for him."
Italy could be without the key defender Ciro Ferrara after he limped off during Juventus's match against Fiorentina yesterday with an injured right leg. He will have a scan today. Italy are already without Roberto Di Matteo - the Chelsea midfielder is suspended.
Middlesbrough lose at home to Sheffield United, page 6