Defoe set to replace Heskey for England
Striker's fine form has convinced Capello to play him alongside Rooney for Slovenia match in a switch from usual starting line-up
Fabio Capello is preparing to start with Jermain Defoe alongside Wayne Rooney in England's strikeforce instead of Emile Heskey in Saturday's friendly against Slovenia in what would be a radical departure from his usual attacking formation.
The Tottenham striker, who scored twice against the Netherlands last month, has been playing alongside Wayne Rooney in training sessions with Capello this week. Capello has looked at a variety of different formations and while nothing is certain with the England manager – he does not announce his team until the day of the game – the understanding is that he is leaning towards a start for Defoe.
Under Capello, England have settled on an established way of playing with Heskey leading the line and Rooney playing behind him but Defoe's form for his club – for whom he has scored four goals already this season – has made him difficult to ignore.
Defoe, 26, has started five games for Capello and only one World Cup qualifier. Capello's preferred strike partnership is Rooney with Heskey or, if he is unavailable, Peter Crouch.
The combination of Rooney and Heskey has worked well, most notably in World Cup qualifiers against Croatia and Kazakhstan. However, Heskey has been left out of the Aston Villa side for their last two league games. Combining Defoe and Rooney against Slovenia would give Capello the opportunity to see them play together ahead of Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Croatia at Wembley.
Capello is also prepared to rest John Terry for Saturday's game against Slovenia to make sure he is fit to play against Croatia four days later. The England captain has suffered groin problems this week, which should be resolved with rest. The problem is not thought to be long-term and if Terry is left out it will just a be a precautionary measure.
Gary Cahill, the Bolton defender, has been called up to the squad as cover for Terry and Wes Brown, who has a thigh problem. Cahill was also a late call-up for the World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra in June.
Defoe, who made his international debut in March 2004, has had more than a few disappointments with England. He said this week that he will never forget the day that Sven Goran Eriksson picked Theo Walcott ahead of him for the 2006 World Cup finals.
Walcott, then just 17, had never played in the Premier League and was never used by Eriksson in the tournament itself. By the time England played Ecuador in the first knockout round, Michael Owen had gone home with a ruptured cruciate ligament and Wayne Rooney had only just come back from a broken metatarsal. Crouch was the squad's only fully-fit striker other than Walcott.
"I'll never forget it. It seems like yesterday, it's so clear in my mind," Defoe said. "It was difficult because I travelled with the squad to Germany [as one of five standby players] and then I had to go home. It was really hard but I suppose it made me stronger. I want to make sure I play this time round.
"The frustrating thing was that I felt really fit. We'd done a lot of running and strengthening work. When I was speaking to the other lads they'd say, 'You look really fit.' At the back of your mind I was thinking 'This is for nothing really because you've got to go home'."
Defoe said that this season his preparation has made him stronger than ever. "It's been good. I've worked really hard in pre-season. I've done all my work in the gym, I've done the running and I felt sharp in the pre-season games." He also said that this time he believes that Fabio Capello has shown more faith in him.
"I didn't think that under the other manager [Steve McClaren] I got a fair chance," Defoe said. "With the manager now I've featured in a lot of the games and even when I haven't started I've played the whole second half. That's getting a fair opportunity. You've got a half to show what you can do instead of ten or fifteen minutes when you might not touch the ball."
Was there any bitterness towards Eriksson? "Hopefully he [Eriksson] is watching the games now," said Defoe.
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