Bent leads race to partner Rooney in attack

 

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The Independent Online

The Aston Villa striker Darren Bent has emerged as the front-runner to start alongside Wayne Rooney in England's forward line against Wales in tomorrow's Euro 2012 qualifier in Cardiff.

Bent, 27, has been Fabio Capello's preferred partner for Rooney in training over the last two days, although as usual the Italian is giving no clues to his players or coaching staff as to his final decision. Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch are the alternatives but Bent fits the template if Capello is to try to replicate Rooney's successful partnership with Javier Hernandez at Manchester United.

Bent scored against Denmark in England's last game but has never made a competitive start in his eight internationals. Capello has a number of selection decisions to make. Unusually, he has a full squad to choose from, with the possible exception of goalkeeper Ben Foster, who had a fever yesterday and may be sent home this morning.

Jack Wilshere looks the safest bet to start in midfield, with one of Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry or Scott Parker alongside him. There is also a decision to be made on whether Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka or Joleon Lescott plays alongside John Terry.

Jagielka said this week that only "three or four" of Gary Speed's Wales squad would get into the reckoning for England. The obvious candidates are Aaron Ramsey and the injury-hit Gareth Bale, both of whom started their career outside the top flight. Another is Craig Bellamy, who dropped a division to move to Cardiff City last year.

"Maybe it will be more like a Championship game really," said Jagielka, the Everton central defender of tomorrow's meeting. "The game will be unlike any international game I have played in before. I think this one could be literally an end-to-end game."

More than half of the Wales squad play in the Championship, and while England have drawn none of their players from that division for tomorrow's game, plenty of Capello's men have experience in that league, the latest being the Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Matt Jarvis. "I owe a lot to Sheffield United for giving me a chance and I played a lot of games in the Championship," Jagielka added. "When you are 17, 18 and thrown in there, then results matter and it's all about staying in the Championship. You grow up very quickly and I probably played a couple of hundred games before I was 21, so you gain that much experience.

"I got released by Everton as a young lad and then had a few trials before joining Sheffield United. I don't believe I would still be in football now if I had stayed at Everton and not progressed."

If Jagielka partners Terry in England's defence it would give him an opportunity to erase the memories of his last appearance at the Millennium Stadium, when he lost in the 2003 Championship play-off final. He eventually won promotion to the Premier League, which is what Bellamy is attempting to do following his move from Manchester City. "I'd like him in our changing room," Jagielka said. "He doesn't shout for the sake of it, he shouts because it needs to be said."

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