Cole's club class sits easily on élite stage

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The Independent Online

Chelsea may have embellished their squad with the purchases of Michael Ballack and Andrei Shevchenko this summer but it is the decision to award Joe Cole a new four-year contract with the World Cup still in its infancy that could prove their most astute business deal on the evidence of Tuesday night in Cologne.

The England manager Sven Goran Eriksson's immediate reaction to Michael Owen's injury against Sweden and the exposing of his fragile forward options was to present the Stamford Bridge midfielder as a viable alternative in an attack that will travel to Stuttgart on Sunday with only one match-fit and experienced striker in their ranks.

That assessment did not meet with wholesale approval yesterday, Frank Lampard making the reasonable suggestion that Wayne Rooney offers a healthy option behind Peter Crouch, but there was widespread agreement that, in the 24-year-old from Islington, Eriksson has a player with the hunger and talent to make a lasting impression on this World Cup.

Cole made only one appearance at the 2002 World Cup, and was not included once by the England manager at Euro 2004 despite being part of the squad. With his appetite stung by international disappointment and two years of both encouragement and criticism from Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, the midfielder ­ as his stupendous volley, man of the match display and assist for Steven Gerrard's crucial second goal against Sweden illustrated ­ is one of the few to have imported his Premiership reputation on to the greatest stage thus far.

His club captain, John Terry, said: "Joe is world-class. I was asked so many questions before coming over to Germany about who was going to be the big stars at the World Cup and everybody was looking at other players in other teams. But Joe and Wazza [Rooney] are the ones in our team who can change a game by their skill and what they have got as individuals. Joe is such a mature lad off the pitch. He has got his head right off the pitch and when he is out on the football pitch there are not many players like him. It just comes natural to him. A lot of us have to work hard at it, but he was gifted with the talent."

Terry has witnessed at first hand the criticism Cole has endured from Mourinho in recent seasons but credits the Chelsea manager with transforming the player's game into one of rich international potential.

"I thought he was Chelsea's best player last year," added the England centre-half. "The manager knows how to play him at Chelsea. He praises him when he needs to be praised and tells him off when he needs to be told off.

"He has got broad shoulders and he has got big nuts as well ­ see him getting back and tackling. Everybody talks about Joe going forward but defensively he gets stuck in."

Lampard was uncertain about Eriksson's claim that Cole and Gerrard could compensate for the loss of Owen, and his own decision to leave Jermain Defoe at home, in the latter stages of the tournament.

"I don't know, that is the manager's decision," he said. "We have got Wayne back fit again so he is as good a second striker as anyone in the world."

Cole himself has ranked his first-half volley as one of the finest goals of his career: "It's certainly up there. I don't usually shoot from that distance, but I just thought I would have a pop," he explained ­ but shared the praise for his performance across the England midfield and, in particular, with Owen Hargreaves.

"Owen was very important," Cole said. "He has come in for a lot of stick from the fans and you never like to hear that, but he showed that he's a top-class holding midfield player.

"We've got Stevie who came back into the side and scored, he's world-class, and so are Frank [Lampard], David [Beckham] and Owen. You don't play for Bayern Munich for that long without being a world-class player. They got me on the ball a lot going at the full-backs. That's what you want when you're a wide man, you want to be on the ball to run at them.

"It worked really well first half and they couldn't live with us. We should have killed the game."

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