Crouch puts best foot forward

England's prime mover stakes his claim to be Capello's preferred striker
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The Independent Football

His goal celebration routine against Ukraine eight weeks back suggested that little had changed in the international life of Peter Crouch. In place of the robot which brought English dancing into serious disrepute was "ropey", a jig inspired by James Corden's Comic Relief sketch – and one he blamed Rio Ferdinand for yesterday – suggesting he was still the same, languid Crouch.

But as the England striker prepared for his journey into the back of beyond with Fabio Capello's squad he reflected on the tenuous nature of his international standing and admitted the goal which paved the way to that 2-1 victory over Ukraine might have been crucial in preventing his international career slipping away from him.

"I do think it was important. If all the strikers had been fit, I know I might not have played," reflected the 28-year, who was behind Emile Heskey in the pecking order until that strike at Wembley and who is now in a head-to head pursuit with him for for the solitary role operating in front of Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard in Kazakhstan on Saturday.

If that seems hard on an individual whose 13 goals from 15 starts and a further two strikes as a substitute make him a picture of consistency for the national side, then it is a predicament he has learned to live with. "I've always felt throughout my England career that, when called upon, I've done well," said Crouch. "It was due to injuries that I played against Ukraine, but I got a game, scored and think I did okay. Hopefully I've put myself in the frame."

Life with Rafael Benitez taught him not to live in expectation of daily encouragement and Capello is not exactly generous with the plaudits. "I didn't get too much from the manager after that game," Crouch said of the Ukraine result which put England on a firm course to South Africa. "He's more pleasant when we win, of course. But there was a slap on the back, a 'well done' and 'see you next time'. He expects a lot from us, to go out there and do well and perform. When we don't he certainly lets us know."

There have been times after leaving Liverpool for Portsmouth in the close season when England must have seemed a receding aspiration. Harry Redknapp left Fratton Park soon after signing him and Portsmouth suffered but the decision to play every week for a struggling side rather than half the time for Liverpool has been vindicated, he believes. "I think Fabio Capello would rather I was at a high-profile club and playing every week, but, to be fair, that wasn't going to happen," Crouch said. "I had to make a difficult decision last summer. But he did tell me I needed to be playing every week, and I am now."

There is still a struggle for permanence with England, with Capello's inclination to play one striker up an exacerbating factor for Crouch and Heskey. "We'd prefer to play two up because then we'd have more chance to get in the team," he said. "It's one right up top, and a position we all want to play in." Crouch does not disagree with the proposition that he is perhaps a victim of perception rather than performance. "It would help if anyone had the physical presence of a Drogba. It would help your game," he said. "I'm not the most obvious looking striker."

But after a training session which Ferdinand (calf) and Ashley Cole (who took a kick in the FA Cup final) missed as a precaution, he is still in there and doing as much as ever to make light of his celebrations. "I'm trying to distance myself from that," Crouch declared.