Cole welcomes competition for a place on the left

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The Independent Football

While West Ham were returning to the Premiership yesterday several graduates of the self-styled "academy" were concentrating on enhancing their own prospects of stepping up a level. Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson were all at the Giants Stadium, New Jersey, preparing for England's final friendly of the season against Colombia tonight.

None of the quartet is yet sure of a place in England's regular starting line-up but strong performances against the South Americans will take them nearer a place in the squad for next summer's World Cup.

Of the four Joe Cole is the most likely contender but he now faces unexpected competition from a former colleague in the Hammers' youth set-up, Kieran Richardson. Though unlikely to be fit to play tonight, Richardson's two-goal England debut in Chicago on Saturday has made him a rival to Cole for the one available place in the England team, that on the left flank. Richardson has the advantage of being left-footed but, yesterday, the Chelsea midfielder said he welcomed the challenge.

"I say bring on the competition, like at Chelsea," said Cole. "I'm happy with that - it makes me a better player. I don't have to prove myself to anyone. I just have to keep performing. Kieran is coming up now and so is Stewart Downing. But you wouldn't expect to play for England and not have competition for places."

Cole, who played well on the right against the Americans, but knows that position is earmarked for David Beckham, added: "I remember watching Kieran play as a youngster at West Ham and he was always a special talent. He's had a great season and it has happened very quickly for him and I'm sure he will kick on from here. He came in, showed no fear and did superbly. Hopefully we'll be fighting for the left-sided role with England for years."

Richardson's debut overshadowed a display by Carrick which, though less spectacular, was similarly impressive. In his first England appearance for four years, and his first start, Carrick knitted the team together with his passing and positioning. He faces strong competition in central midfield from Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard but with both those players attacking in outlook Eriksson may consider that including the more defensively-minded Carrick could provide a better balance.

This was the case in Chicago. Carrick said: "Sven wanted me to be the deeper midfielder and be careful of the runs they made. The way the game was going I realised I had to concentrate on defending. They had some lively front players but I thought I did a fairly good job. I had experience in the past of being around the England squad and that helped me. This time being in the squad didn't feel like such a big jump."

He added: "There is some great quality in midfield as Frank and Stevie have shown in the last two years. You can't just play one good game and knock them out of the team. That's just not going to happen. They're too good for that. In the last two or three years they've been among the best midfielders in Europe. So it will be a long road but the fact Joe [Cole] and Frank had to wait for a few years to establish themselves is something I can take heart from. You've got to work at it. You can't just play once and be in. But I feel I'm improving and I've got to set my sights on being as good as them."