Coach plans to stick with Defoe as striking rivals fail to make case

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Fabio Capello will focus his attention on sorting out England's misfiring strike-force ahead of the World Cup qualification campaign next month but he appears set to persist with Jermain Defoe playing in front of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.

Although Defoe did not perform well in the disappointing friendly draw against the Czech Republic on Wednesday evening he is still regarded as the best available option by Capello because of his pace and movement.

If Michael Owen were to regain fitness – and he's unlikely to recover from a calf problem in time for Newcastle United's fixture with Bolton Wanderers tomorrow – then he could come under consideration although Capello remains sceptical about the 28-year-old because of his regular unavailability.

Dean Ashton also remains a possibility but, again, has to dramatically improve his fitness while Emile Heskey, called up for the first time under Capello, was a disappointment. Peter Crouch could earn a recall if his form improves while Gabriel Agbonlahor is still regarded as too inexperienced. None of England's strikers, however, fits the mould of Fernando Torres who is the attacker most admired in the Premier League by Capello.

His faith in Rooney remains undimmed and he still regards the Manchester United striker as England's most dangerous player along with Steven Gerrard. The England manager was angered by the criticism he received on Wednesday for his use of Gerrard and believes that observers are failing to understand the system he is using.

Capello maintained he deployed a 4-3-2-1 line-up with Gerrard using a position on the left as a starting role with licence to roam. However he was accused, by the Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, of "killing" Gerrard by playing him out of position.

Of more immediate concern for Capello were the poor performances of Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry although the Italian claimed the latter's form has been affected by his summer-long transfer saga. "The Liverpool situation means he is not at his best. That's my opinion," he said.

The England camp drew consolation from the fact that Wednesday's game did not end in defeat and also that when the squad reconvenes in two weeks time key players – such as Rooney and Gerrard – will be fitter. "I think Rooney, Gerrard and the other players that are not in a perfect condition will be very important," Capello said. He is confident that the 10 days he has with the players as they play Andorra and then Croatia will allow him time to improve their performances.

Rooney hopes that will be the case. "We can still learn and do better," he said. "Hopefully we can get it right in the qualifiers." The 22-year-old admitted there was a desire for revenge after being "embarrassed" by Croatia in the campaign to qualify for Euro 2008. "We want to pay them back," he said.

Joe Cole claimed that the team was improving slowly and perhaps expectation levels need to be tempered. "Patience is the key," he said. "It's an 18-month campaign. We are making steps, small strides."