Jermain Defoe is pushing Emile Heskey hard for a place in England's starting line-up for the Group C match against Algeria tomorrow, with Fabio Capello apparently attracted by the idea of a player with a pace more likely to punish the African nation's immobile defence.
With Gareth Barry back to hold the midfield for the game in Cape Town, the decisions over the second striker and the goalkeeper are the only ones still preoccupying Capello at this stage. There would be a logic behind the Italian considering Defoe's greater pace against such a vulnerable defence as the Algerians and Majid Bougherra, who is so static at central defence, would probably prefer the prospect of Heskey.
Capello said: "I know my team. We will play Barry, he is back, he is okay, but I have to decide about two positions." These are goalkeeper and forward, Capello said, with the latter issue now down to a straight choice of "Heskey or Defoe". Wayne Rooney and Defoe have started only seven games together for England and their record on those occasions has been far from formidable. Only one goal has been scored by either of them in those seven matches and that was the consolation effort Defoe scored in the 4-1 defeat by Denmark in August 2005. Defoe was substituted at half-time on the last two occasions they have started together. On occasions there is a less clear delineation between their duties, while Heskey's presence creates a clear area for Rooney to operate within.
Defoe's rise to prominence comes at the expense of Peter Crouch, who scored two goals against Egypt at Wembley after replacing Defoe, but the Tottenham striker's 21 goals in 39 games still does not seem to have convinced Capello he is the partner for Rooney. Instead, he seems to have seen potential in a striker whose hamstring tear in March kept him out for three weeks and who did not arrive at the World Cup in prime goal-scoring form. He scored only once after his return in April to the Spurs side which secured Champions League qualification.
Capello appears to have discounted any idea of restoring David James to the England ranks for Algeria, though four days spent observing Robert Green have still not entirely convinced him that he will not be affected by his error against the US.
Capello, who seems to be ready to give Jamie Carragher his first international start in four years in Ledley King's absence, does not seem to have taken Green's mature response to his blunder in the Royal Bafokeng Stadium as evidence that he has been unaffected psychologically. Though Capello feels strongly that the flight of the Jabulani ball was at the root of the mistake, he is understood to believe that any player will naturally brood over such an error. Green seems to be favourite to start but Capello will not make his decision until the squad reach Cape Town today.
"He made a mistake, a big mistake, but in the second half he played well because he made a good save. But I have to decide," Capello says of Green in an interview for ITV. "It's a problem of the mind, you remember always the mistake. You have to choose the best keeper mentally at this moment.
Algeria's warm-up games suggested they are vulnerable in defence and coach Rabah Saadane certainly fears Rooney. "When I look at Rooney now, I see a player who is growing after day, getting better all the time. Now he is at the summit," he said. "It is not just the goals he is scoring and the talent he has but he is also at the top of his maturity as a player – and that is what defines a great player. For me he is one of the top two in the world."
Rooney yesterday suggested that a winter break would have helped the England players, admitting that he has arrived at the World Cup in need of a break. A Football Association spokesman said: "This has been raised before by managers and players but with the very busy domestic programme, three competitions and the increased Europa and Champions League it is difficult to see how this could be accommodated."Reuse content