Lennon may be left to imagine

Eriksson unlikely to turn radical as he endures last nervous 90 minutes before naming squad
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Just 90 more minutes this after-noon for Sven Goran Eriksson to endure then, fingers and toes, arms and legs crossed, before handing over to his employers the names of 23 players he hopes will be fit enough to represent England in his final tournament as head coach. Either three or four others will be left on standby for another week.

Only 90 minutes in time, but half a dozen simultaneous Premiership games in which his wannabes will be involved, risking the sort of sporting catastrophe that befell Wayne Rooney at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

Given Eriksson's understandable desire to take Rooney to Germany even as the longest of long shots, the United player has to be named in the 23 rather than among any reserves, which also applies to others among the walking (or hobbling) wounded such as Ledley King and Michael Owen.

As picking a fifth striker becomes a necessity, the greatest beneficiary is likely to be Charlton Athletic's Darren Bent. Not that he is in any way a like-for-like understudy. Bent's game, like Owen's, is about pushing right up on the last defender and running on to through-balls; so much so that he has been caught offside far more often than any other Premiership player this season. In his one international appearance, against Uruguay in March, he found that style more difficult to impose, partly because the South Americans cut down space by defending deep and partly because his England team-mates were not attuned to his game and barely supplied a relevant pass all evening.

But Bent has shown he can score, with his head and both feet, and deserves to be ahead of similar candidates, tried and untried, such as James Beattie, Darius Vassell, Emile Heskey, Kevin Davies or the West Ham pair Dean Ashton and Marlon Harewood. Andy Johnson, as he may have feared, has not been given as fair a crack of the whip since loyally dropping down into the Championship with Crystal Palace.

Unique as Rooney is, the number of even vaguely similar linking players is few, essentially confined in England's case to the 40-year-old Teddy Sheringham (who still has his advocates) and the injured Kieron Dyer.

At the other end of the pitch, Arsenal's Ashley Cole, who will be a first choice, and Sol Campbell, who will not, appear to have recovered sufficiently from their ailments and now need to come through the Champions' League final in 10 days' time. Cole might even benefit from the enforced rest; Campbell, looking much better at Manchester City last Thursday, needs to keep pushing himself, Eriksson having expressed the belief that big men need more work when returning from injury. He is an obvious choice for the B international against Belarus a fortnight on Thursday.

Norwich City are expecting that Robert Green will have fully recovered from his ankle injury and will therefore be the Championship's sole representative in the squad as third goalkeeper. Injury has, however, come at a bad time for Charlton's right-back Luke Young, who even when fit was in danger of being squeezed out by the versatility of other defenders.

Should anything happen to Gary Neville, few would be unduly concerned about Jamie Carragher coming in - or on - as the replacement. Wes Brown, another contender who has experience at right-back, was recalled for the last game after nine months and is an obvious understudy to King; Wayne Bridge needs to be there as deputy to Cole, a left-footed player being more desirable at this level than Carragher.

So midfield is the only really contentious area, the questions being: 1 Is Shaun Wright-Phillips in sufficiently good form to be picked? 2 Should Owen Hargreaves travel ahead of Jermaine Jenas? 3 Is there room for Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing as the one orthodox left-winger?

Bear in mind here that it is Eriksson, conservative and loyal, supplying the answers. His natural instinct, like many international managers, is to stick with players who have not let him down, and Wright-Phillips can point to three acceptable performances for England this season and only one poor one - which was against Northern Ireland, when he was hardly alone. In Cardiff a few days earlier, then against Poland and Uruguay, he was excellent.

A disappointing show at Blackburn in midweek did not help his cause, so an improved performance at Newcastle today if Jose Mourinho offers the chance would be most welcome. Otherwise the clamour for Tottenham's Aaron Lennon will continue. The 19-year-old, quick and clever, is undoubtedly a youngster of potential, but World Cups are not the stage for potential, with only a handful of Under-21 appearances to point to as solid achievement.

Hargreaves or Jenas? Eriksson likes both, albeit as substitutes rather than starters. A trip to Germany last week to watch the former push Bayern towards their umpteenth Bundesliga title suggests Hargreaves is neither out of sight nor out of mind despite having missed the four internationals since September. Jenas is the more attacking option, but there is no shortage of those, and King's possible absence makes Hargreaves the more likely choice.

So no place for Kieran Richardson, who has not made much of an impression since scoring twice on his debut in the United States last summer. Downing is back on song after a quiet period and will have manager-to-be Steve McClaren pressing his case, but may be left waiting on Rooney's fitness. If the United wunderkind is finally ruled out at any time up until 24 hours before England's opening game on 10 June, the only small consolation would then be the addition of Downing and an extra dimension; a potential substitute and an authentic winger able to feed Peter Crouch or Bent in the air.

Whatever happens, if previous tournaments are any guide, either three or four outfield players will not step on to the pitch at all. The nation is currently praying that Rooney is not among their number.

Aaron's Dream: 'Too fantastic to be true'

What has happened to me is almost too fantastic to be true. The World Cup? I never imagined I might be part of it. But it's difficult to take in the possibility. I only ever thought I would watch it on television. I feel sorry for Michael [Owen] and Wayne [Rooney] if they were to miss out. My situation hardly compares, although earlier this season I made my debut for the England Under-21s but a hamstring injury put me out of the play-off with France. I remember as a kid seeing Michael hit that stunning solo goal against Argentina. Wayne and Michael were both 18, younger than me now, and they set the world alight. I'm not saying for one minute I could ever make the same impact, but it would be a dream to come off the bench and help swing a result. I heard from my team-mates Mr Eriksson has watched us, but I have been concentrating on just doing well for Spurs.

Tottenham's Aaron Lennon

ERIKSSON'S PROBABLE 23 FOR GERMANY

Paul Robinson (Tottenham)

We can only hope injury doesn't afflict this outstanding No1.

David James (Man City)

An athletic shot-stopper who still struggles for dependability.

Robert Green (Norwich City)

Injury has prevented him from seeing out the season. A worry.

Gary Neville (Man Utd)

Fit again and in form. Important role in defence and attack.

Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd)

Poise, composure and intelligent use of ball. Just concentrate, Rio.

John Terry (Chelsea)

A giant at the back and in the world game; a second captain.

Ashley Cole (Arsenal)

His match fitness is a question but his speed and class aren't.

Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

Versatility a boon. Would be too good to leave out of most sides but may have to settle for bench.

Sol Campbell (Arsenal)

Troubled club spell has left doubts about reliability under pressure.

Ledley King (Tottenham)

Recovering metatarsal victim. Is he worth the Rooney treatment?

Wayne Bridge (Chelsea)

Fluctuating form during Fulham loan spell but worth the trip.

David Beckham (Real Madrid)

Doubts about pace and form but set-piece prowess priceless.

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

World-class. Versatility has been an enemy but he may be used in his proper place at last.

Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

World-class too. Recent concerns about form but goals from midfield and high energy are crucial.

Joe Cole (Chelsea)

In Rooney's absence, his trickery and ability to surprise are vital.

Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea)

Speed is a great asset, though

current form is not. But does he possess Aaron Lennon's touch?

Michael Carrick (Tottenham)

Role as a holding midfielder would liberate Gerrard and Lampard.

Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich)

We still don't know his best position - or how good he is.

Michael Owen (Newcastle)

If fit, a natural finisher - sorry, Glenn - and proven threat. But it's a big if.

Wayne Rooney

(Man Utd, left)

The gifted one might just be available for the later stages - but will England be there?

Peter Crouch (Liverpool)

Height helpful and has fine touch, but will he score enough goals?

Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)

Thought to be ideal stand-in for Owen, but has been inconsistent.

Darren Bent (Charlton Athletic)

Quick and intelligent. Could be employed as a lone striker.



THE RESERVES

Scott Carson (Liverpool)

On loan at Sheffield Wednesday. Lack of strength in depth?

Wes Brown (Man Utd)

With doubts about King, he might well find himself on the plane.

Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham)

Elegant performer, young enough to rid his game of unforced errors.

Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough)

Can Eriksson really afford to leave behind this genuine left-footer?

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