Football: Merson making claims for a World Cup place

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The Independent Online
Paul Merson says his new Middlesbrough team-mates are helping him to rekindle his World Cup dream. Merson is back to his brilliant best since his move from Arsenal to Teesside last summer.

His strike against Liverpool in last night's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final first leg at Anfield followed up his goal against the Gunners in the FA Cup and took his tally for the season to 12.

He looks certain now to be rewarded with a call-up to either the England squad or the B international party for next month's matches against Chile - and if he continues to shine then he could be on the plane to this summer's World Cup Finals in France.

But the 29-year-old took time to pay tribute to his team-mates, claiming they are one of the main reasons for his current upturn in form.

"Playing in a good team helps a great deal," he said. "There are some great players here, and they don't get the same credit that I get and they deserve more.

"I've got to keep playing well and try my hardest and as I've said before if I don't get into the England squad it won't be through lack of trying.

"I will give it my all and if I don't get in then it's because I'm not good enough. If I didn't get in and I hadn't given it my all, then I would be more disappointed."

Merson may have dropped down a league when he joined Middlesbrough but he feels the Teessiders are a Premiership club in everything but name.

"You just have to look at the fans - 6,500 went to Anfield and they were brilliant," he said.

"Middlesbrough are a big team and they do get a lot of coverage, so it's not like playing at a club that no one ever hears of."

After his past troubles Merson is at peace with himself and is enjoying his football once again, a world away from his drugs, gambling and alcohol problems.

Merson confirmed: "I'm really enjoying myself. It's a new challenge playing at grounds and against players that I have never experienced before.

"Playing against Arsenal and Liverpool in the last few days I knew the players inside out, which was an advantage for me, but on Sunday we face Stoke and I'm not so familiar with those players."

Boro look set for a swift return to the top flight and they are also within sight of a third successive trip to Wembley following their narrow 2-1 defeat at Liverpool on Tuesday night.

"We said before we came here that as long as we could keep in the tie, that was the main thing," he said. "We didn't want to lose four, five or six nil, and that away goal is vital.

"If this were a European Cup tie we would be very happy, and it was certainly better than losing 1-0. But Liverpool are a quality team, and we are not as confident as Stevenage are of beating Newcastle," Merson added with a grin.