Eriksson rewards in-form Heskey with England recall

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The Independent Online

Emile Heskey was invited back from seven months in the international wilderness yesterday when Sven Goran Eriksson recalled the Birmingham City striker to the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan.

Emile Heskey was invited back from seven months in the international wilderness yesterday when Sven Goran Eriksson recalled the Birmingham City striker to the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan.

Heskey's England career looked to have stalled on 43 caps, the last of which was as a substitute in the European Championship first-round defeat to France in which the striker committed the foul that led to Zinedine Zidane's heartbreaking last-minute match-winner. However, the 27-year-old's renaissance at Birmingham after a £6.5m move from Liverpool in the summer has persuaded Eriksson that he still has a role to play for England.

It meant there was no place for Manchester United's Alan Smith, who has recently returned from injury, but Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson has kept his place. The striker's international prospects were not helped by Eriksson's decision to use him on the right side of midfield when he came on as a substitute against the Netherlands in last month's friendly at Villa Park.

There was no spot for Nicky Butt in the midfield after he recently lost his place in the Newcastle side to Amdy Faye, which suggests that Eriksson might persevere with the 4-3-3 system that looked so ineffective against the Netherlands. The England coach has spoken with Graeme Souness and the Newcastle manager asked that the 30-year-old midfielder be allowed to build up his fitness during the international break.

Without Butt playing in the traditional holding role there might be a place for Joe Cole after his recent impressive performances for Chelsea. He scored against Palace on Saturday and the midfielder could be used in place of the injured Shaun Wright-Phillips in an attacking three.

With Sol Campbell still injured, Wes Brown keeps his place as cover for the two first-choice central defenders, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. There is also another call-up for Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing who made his debut with Johnson against the Netherlands and has not, of late, reached the standards that made him one of the Premiership's most impressive performers in the early part of the season.

Heskey's recall, however, suggests that Eriksson is concerned about maintaining a taller, more physical option along with strikers such as Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe and Johnson. In Birmingham's 2-0 victory over Aston Villa yesterday, Heskey's goalscoring performance caught the eye.

Heskey is unlikely to figure in Eriksson's starting line-up which, excluding injuries, is likely to feature Owen and Rooney in attack. The only variable is the place in midfield to be contested by Cole and Kieron Dyer.

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