Crouch makes case for plan B

Striker pushes claims for World Cup place with two goals in 3-0 win over Belarus
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The Independent Online

Peter Crouch made a compelling case for inclusion in England's squad for next summer's World Cup finals with two goals in last night's 3-0 victory over Belarus at Wembley, but received little encouragement afterwards from manager Fabio Capello.

Crouch scored in both halves, either side of a goal from winger Shaun Wright-Phillips, to ensure England ended their World Cup qualifying campaign on a high, having scored 34 goals from their 10 games.

The double strike took the Tottenham striker's tally to four goals in the last three games for England, but Crouch admitted he does not expect to play in England's friendly with Brazil in Doha next month. "I'm just pleased I put two away," he said. "I don't expect to start the next game. That's up to the manager. Whenever I come in I feel I do a job and don't let anyone down. Hopefully, I'll get a game."

Capello, however, was not in the mood for lavishing praise on the Tottenham striker. The Italian declined the opportunity to congratulate Crouch on his performance, preferring instead to state that he is well aware of the striker's capabilities. Not so much damning with faint praise as damning with no praise.

Capello said: "He's one part of the squad. I know the players. I have a style I want to play in certain games, and I know the players who will be on the pitch. I know very well Peter Crouch. He scores a lot of goals."

David Beckham came on as a second-half substitute to win his 115th cap, and helped to set up England's second goal with a short corner to Wright-Phillips, who finished from the edge of the penalty area.

Beckham played little more than 30 minutes but was puzzingly given the man of the match award by his former team-mate Steve Bruce, who was working for ITV. The decision amazed manager Capello, who likened it to the US President, Barack Obama, winning the Nobel peace prize after being in power just eight months.

Capello said: "Yes, I was a bit surprised. I just thought it was like Obama getting the Nobel peace prize after eight months as president. He gets the man of the match after 30 minutes here."

Bruce quipped that the reason he had not given the award to Crouch was that the striker had declined the chance to move to Sunderland in the close season, preferring a switch to Spurs instead. "I couldn't give the man of the match to Crouchie. He turned me down in the summer," Bruce said on ITV.

Beckham revealed afterwards that he is close to clinching a loan move to Milan in January, a deal that is vital to his chances of remaining part of Capello's plans.

Beckham said: "That move to Milan is close. I've always said I want to go back there if they want me. Milan are still saying they do. It's 95 per cent done, very close, so I can't see it not happening now."

Capello expressed his satisfaction that Beckham would be getting regular games with Milan. "The most important thing is that he will play there," Capello said. "For me it's very important because Beckham, when he played the last 20 minutes, 50 minutes, half an hour, from half-time, he's always played well and been focused. Sometimes some players when they're substitutes have problems playing normally. Beckham always plays well."

Capello made six changes from the team that lost 1-0 to Ukraine on Saturday, with Crouch and Gabriel Agbonlahor up front, supported by wingers Aaron Lennon and Wright-Phillips on the flanks.

The England manager said: "Always, it's important to win. You lose one game. It was important to win, it was important for me to see something on the pitch and to learn more things about my players, and it was a really important game for us. I'm happy for the way we played in the second half, the substitutes, and also for the goals that we scored and the clean sheet we kept. That's important."

Capello also revealed he was unhappy with some of England's play during the first half but refused to elaborate. "I spoke with the players why I was angry," Capello said. Invited then to explain what he was angry about, Capello replied: "No."

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