Crouch ditches dancing to be leader of the line

The new focus of England's attack tells Andy Hunter he aims to win plaudits for his moves before, not after, scoring
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The Independent Online

In an effort to gain recognition as a vital component of England's World Cup campaign and not as the figurehead of a retro dance craze, Peter Crouch yesterday announced an end to the robotic goal celebrations that had categorised him as the joker in the pack, the cult hero, before he set foot in Germany. The fact he has also ditched the routine over which he had less control, that of Wayne Rooney's warm-up act, suggests that process has already commenced.

The sight of the Liverpool centre-forward conducting interviews in Baden-Baden yesterday afternoon attracted an excitable crowd to the terrace of the Hamilton Lounge, his path between the media tables interrupted by autograph hunters and photographers of various nationalities as they sought their own audience with an international boasting only eight caps, but whose importance to Sven Goran Eriksson is mounting by the game.

As recently as the penultimate warm-up match of the World Cup, against Hungary on 30 May, the 25-year-old was the fringe player to whom England could turn in a crisis. Now - with Michael Owen's performance against Paraguay confirming that Eriksson's confidence in repaired metatarsals is not always well founded, Rooney's involvement in that same judgement, Theo Walcott deemed unprepared for a World Cup group game even before he injured an ankle in training and Jermain Defoe on holiday, to the apparent annoyance of many in the England squad - Crouch is the striker on whom the nation's hopes and the team's strategy depend.

Without a dramatic improvement in the form or fitness of Owen and Rooney, or the realisation of the unfair expectations surrounding Walcott, that situation is unlikely to change beyond the group stage.

"I do feel there is a certain responsibility on me now but I'm enjoying it," Crouch said. "To be part of the England set-up at a World Cup is great and to be fully fit and feeling confident is an added bonus. I can't worry about anyone else's fitness. I've got to concentrate on my own game and helping the team to progress.

"I always felt I could succeed at this level but, with the way I've been playing, I have definitely got more belief. I didn't set out to prove anybody wrong. I set out to be the best I can be. I'm the same as anybody else - once you've played you want to stay in the team. It's the manager's decision and you have to go with that. But my job is to play as well as I can to influence that decision."

England will look to Crouch against Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday. Jan Koller, his Czech Republic counterpart as regards height, scored twice and created one in a 3-0 victory over Leo Beenhakker's side in a friendly before the tournament. Eriksson's men will, though, have to heed the mistakes against Paraguay and remember Crouch can also play on the floor if they are to extract the best out of the Liverpool striker and also themselves in Nuremberg.

For Crouch's part, he must be careful not to risk a second booking - and the suspension that currently represents the greatest threat to his place in the team - having conceded numerous free-kicks against the South Americans for leading with his arms.

"It was overly fussy, but I don't want to blame referees, I have to adapt," Crouch admitted. "I will have to address it. It seemed that if I touched anyone it would be a free-kick. In the Premiership I wouldn't get pulled up for half the things I was getting penalised for out there. I don't want to get booked again. The booking is in the back of my mind."

Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez telephoned his £7m purchase on Monday to congratulate him on his debut on the World Cup stage and to wish him well for the rest of the tournament. Having worked on restoring his confidence, form and reputation over the past year, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Spaniard also advised his centre-forward to ditch the dancing too.

"It was a bit of harmless fun at first, which seems to have escalated a little bit, but I'm not sure I'll be doing the robotics again," added Crouch, who knew the frivolity was over the moment his penalty-kick against Jamaica in a warm-up friendly sailed over the crossbar.

"If we win the World Cup maybe you'll see the whole team do the celebrations, but for the moment I don't think I will be doing it again. It is a serious business we are in. I know that more than anyone. It's an important time we're in now. It's not about robotic dances. It's about scoring goals and winning football matches."