Heskey head and shoulders above Crouch, says Bruce

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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce believes Emile Heskey deserves to be part of Sven Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad after claiming the Birmingham striker "is a better centre-forward than Peter Crouch". Heskey's chances of earning an England recall for the 2006 finals appear to be fading fast, with Eriksson admitting only three places are still available next summer.

The striker Crouch is clearly favoured by the Swede, despite a recent goal drought for Liverpool which only ended with two goals against Wigan this month. But Bruce points to the outstanding form which Heskey has been showing on a consistent basis since his £6m move from Anfield 19 months ago as a powerful argument for the inclusion of the 27-year-old, who won his last cap in the opening game of Euro 2004.

Heskey was Birmingham's player of the year last season, and has again shouldered the responsibility of at times being the only fit striker at Bruce's disposal.

"Emile has been immense," Bruce said. "He has led from the front, plays week in and week out and if something happened to him, heaven forbid what it would mean to us.

"You have to say Peter Crouch is in pole position with England - but it's a long time to the World Cup. Somebody usually comes from nowhere. In my opinion Emile Heskey is a better centre-forward than Peter Crouch. I don't think where we are in the league will affect his England chances. Every week people are going away and saying 'Emile Heskey played well' and I think playing in the Premiership whether at the top, middle or the bottom is a testament in itself.

"I think of his type there is nobody better in the country and I'm disappointed for Emile especially with the World Cup coming up, but there are six months to go. For us, he was our player of the year last season and people realise when they play against him how difficult he is to handle."

Birmingham will be looking to build on their first home win of the campaign against Fulham last Saturday when they visit Manchester City today. Bruce is relieved his side will not have to face the suspended Andy Cole and admitted he regretted not making a move to sign the veteran striker when he left Fulham in the summer.

"Coley has always done well against us and I had an opportunity," he said. "I thought about it long and hard because he has proved he has still got a huge pride. His performance against us at the start of the season was excellent.

"We were down the line with Mikael Forssell and I brought in Walter Pandiani in case anything happened to Emile. No one thinks of that scenario, but Pandiani's best games have been when Emile hasn't played."