Cruz control reaps recall reward

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The last time Julio Cruz played against a British national side it seemed he was about to realise a script even Hollywood would baulk at. The Argentinian striker scored against Wales in February 2002 and seemed destined to play in that year's World Cup.

His selection would cap an extraordinary rise for a player who was discovered while mowing the grass at the training ground of Banfield, a mid-ranking Buenos Aires club. Then 18, he was asked to make up the numbers at training and impressed enough to win a place in the first team. A transfer to River Plate followed and, thence, a move to Europe. He also acquired an inevitable nickname: El Jardinero ("The Gardener"). Then came the sting in the fairytale. Cruz was omitted from the squad that went to Japan and has not played for the national team since.

His career also went awry at club level as a glamorous move to Internazionale turned sour. With Christian Vieri, Adriano, Alvaro Recoba and Obafemi Martins blocking his way a first-team place was hard to pin down and he scored only five goals last season.

However, he persevered and, this season, his third at Inter, he has began to shine. In less than five hours playing time he has already matched last year's five League goals - making him the top foreign scorer in Serie A. And last week he followed a Champions' League winner against Artmedia Bratislava with both goals as Inter defeated Porto. His reward has been a recall, at the age of 31, to the national squad for today's match against England in Geneva.

"Perhaps this is the best I've played since I've been in Europe," Cruz said. "I want to take it one step at a time. It wasn't fair that that my international career should end like that, what with it being the run-up to the World Cup and me scoring a goal.

"Things were just starting to go right for me," he added, "but this recall isn't about settling scores. It's a recognition of what I have been doing for years in the challenging environment of Italian football."

One fan is Paolo Rossi, who fired Italy to triumph in the 1982 finals. He said: "Cruz leads the line with intelligence. Moreover, I get the impression that he's an important part of the group. It's always good to have a team-mate who will not stir up controversy when he's omitted. He does something much more interesting instead: he scores goals."