Peter Crouch has been handed the No 9 squad number for the World Cup finals by Fabio Capello in the biggest hint yet that the prolific Tottenham striker has supplanted Emile Heskey in England's first XI.
Glen Johnson was given the No 2 shirt, which suggests he will be ahead of Jamie Carragher (No 18) for right-back. Gareth Barry, still recovering from an ankle ligament injury, has nonetheless been given the No 11 shirt. David James has the No 1 jersey, although Capello, who yesterday finally signed his new FA contract to remove the post-World Cup break clause, is still insistent that he will not make his mind up about his first-choice goalkeeper until he has seen his players train in South Africa.
The squad were due to touch down in Johannesburg this morning with the exact personnel in Capello's first XI still unresolved. Heskey was only given a substitute's appearance in the second warm-up game against Japan in Graz on Sunday. In the previous game against Mexico, Crouch started and scored his 21st goal in 38 England caps.
The England management asked all players to submit two choices for the squad number they would prefer in an attempt to issue everyone with a number that they were happy with. While the Capello camp have been eager to downplay any assumptions about the likely XI to face the United States, the squad numbers – which are yet to be officially released by Fifa – do reflect Crouch's standing in the squad.
Ahead of England's 9pm flight from Heathrow last night, Capello's son and lawyer Pierfillippo had to make a last-minute dash up the M1 to Leicester to meet with Sir Dave Richards, the new chairman of Club England, at a hotel to sign his new revised Football Association contract.
Richards was in Leicester on Premier League business – he is the league's chairman – and it was the only chance that the two men could get together face-to-face to finalise the details of the new contract. The FA, which has put Richards in charge of Club England, hopes it will keep their coach out of the clutches of Internazionale for the foreseeable future.
The FA made an announcement last night to say that the Italian had agreed to the revised contract and that any issue over his future until the end of Euro 2012 was now resolved. The break clause that would have allowed him to leave after the World Cup for reduced compensation has been deleted.
Capello said: "I am very happy about this and would like to thank Sir David Richards and the FA for their continued support and assurances about my future. I always wanted to stay until the end of my contract. In South Africa we are totally focused on the World Cup."
England's players will see their Royal Bafokeng base in Phokeng outside the North-West Province city of Rustenburg for the first time today. It is where they will live and train for as long as they stay in the competition. Having made a late run for inclusion in his third World Cup squad, Joe Cole said that this squad offered lots of competition for places
"I look around the plane and every player has got an argument," he said. "We have great players who have had great seasons, but maybe because I'm tried and tested at this level that might help, you never know. I loved my time in 2006 but I want to finish my England career winning something and this is the best chance with the players we've got, and the manager. If everyone believes we can do it, we can do it.
"People still talk to me about the last World Cup and the goal against Sweden, but I want to go to South Africa and be part of a team that is going to do something better than that. We got to the quarter-finals last time and we want to go further. Everyone in the nation is excited and all the players in the squad are so excited, we just can't wait to get going."
The Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, who was among the seven left out of the squad, said that Capello had told him that he had a chance of breaking into the England squad for the Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Johnson said: "Of course, I was a bit down when I got the news and my first thought was that I wish I'd had more of a chance to show what I could do in the two warm-up matches. I would have loved the chance to showcase what I can do on the biggest stage of all but I am not going to dwell on it.
"The management made it clear to me that I have an international future and I am going to get my head down and get ready to try and work my way into the side for September qualifiers."
England's goal getters
Peter Crouch has the third-highest goals-per-game ratio of any England player in the past 50 years:
1. Jimmy Greaves 57/44/0.77
2. Gary Lineker 80/48/0.60
3. Peter Crouch 38/21/0.55
4. Geoff Hurst 49/24/0.49
5. Alan Shearer 63/30/0.48
6. Mick Channon 44 /21/0.48
7. Bobby Charlton 106 /49/0.46
8. Michael Owen 89/40/0.45
9. David Platt 62/27/0.44
10. Wayne Rooney 60/25/0.42
(20 goals to qualify)