Moyes backs Baines to be in reckoning for World Cup

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The Independent Football

The Everton left back Leighton Baines has been taking some ribbing from his team-mates over a comment from his manager which he would have taken as a heavily loaded piece of irony five months back. If Baines continues to play as he did in the goalless draw at Chelsea which underlined Everton's European aspirations, then he will "go with England to the World Cup. No question," Moyes said.

Baines, who is expected to feature in the Everton side pursuing a second successive fifth-place finish today against Tottenham Hotspur, was told by his manager before Christmas that he would be his boyhood team's left back "for a long time" but he simply did not believe him.

Moyes' inclination to play Joleon Lescott at that position until midway through this season, allied to 24-year-old Baines' injury problems, curtailed his first 16 months at Goodison and only when Joseph Yobo sustained a hamstring tear in November was there daylight. Then came the call-up for England's squad for Slovakia and Ukraine and the chance to challenge Ashey Cole and Wayne Bridge.

"All that was a million miles away from my thoughts because in December if you'd said I would get half a dozen games for the rest of the season I'd have been delighted," said Baines, speaking this week at the launch of the Everton Foundation, the club's charitable arm, which delivers a range of programmes to promote social inclusion, well-being and fitness among youngsters, disabled children and adults.

"I just wanted to get back in and was figuring out how to do so. I was coming in and working hard but it was tough because I knew I wouldn't have a game at the end of the week. I spoke to the manager two or three times to tell him how frustrated I was feeling, and how hard I was finding it."

But the former Wigan Athletic defender settled into an all-English back four which conceded just four goals throughout January and just one in February as Everton set about catching up Aston Villa and last month's league visit to Chelsea, Everton's FA Cup final opponents, was by popular consensus his best performance in an Everton shirt.

Baines contributes to the distinctly Merseyside strain at Goodison, with Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert. "When I was younger I'd come along with my cousin, stand outside Goodison, and hopefully get in for nothing for the last 10 minutes or so," he said.

Today his England credentials will get their latest examination with Aaron Lennon, harbouring international hopes of his own, likely to be operating down the right flank at Goodison. An intriguing view of what England's future could look like.