Parker to fill the hole left by Hargreaves

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The Independent Football

He has the unenviable job of deputising for the nation's new hero Owen Hargreaves, but given how long Scott Parker has waited for his England opportunity that should not bother him too much. The Newcastle captain will today be named in Steve McClaren's squad to face Macedonia and Croatia.

The 25-year-old could do nothing to impress Sven Goran Eriksson having recovered from the metatarsal injury in December 2004 that blighted his time at Chelsea, and was always regarded by the Swede as a player lacking the class to survive at international level. McClaren's recent visits to watch Newcastlesuggest that he thinks otherwise.

The call-up of Parker will be overshadowed by the return of Wayne Rooney from his suspension, to make his first appearance for McClaren's England. With Aaron Lennon injured there could also be a first call-up for Liverpool's right-winger Jermaine Pennant.

Despite his tigerish performances as Newcastle's holding midfielder, Parker's third cap is not guaranteed, although the mini-injury crisis in McClaren's midfield has not moved the England manager to offer a reprieve to David Beckham. If Parker is preferred to him, it surely is the sign that his international career is over.

Beckham has played the holding midfield role for England - an experiment that ended with the disastrous defeat to Northern Ireland last September - but Hargreaves has made it his own since his inspirational performance against Portugal this summer. Since then, McClaren has picked the Bayern Munich man for all three of his games in charge.

He could yet turn to Ledley King to play that role against Macedonia at Old Trafford next Saturday - Eriksson converted the Tottenham centre-half in a midfielder in his last year in charge. However, given McClaren's apparent aversion to many of Eriksson's more maverick decisions it seems unlikely that he will continue with that approach.

Phil Neville, Jermaine Jenas and even Jamie Carragher are long shots for the position, but if McClaren wants a holding midfielder who plays that role for his club every week then Parker is the obvious candidate. Parker played for England twice as a substitute under Eriksson, both of them in the build-up to Euro 2004 after the team had qualified. The first was in the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford to Denmark in November 2003 and the second in Gothenburg, where England lost 1-0 to Sweden. Parker did not make the Euro 2004 squad.

Lennon will not be included in the England squad, who also face Croatia on 11 October in Zagreb - the Tottenham winger has a knee injury which has required surgery. Joe Cole is another serious doubt for McClaren. He has not played since aggravating a knee injury in Chelsea's Champions' League victory over Werder Bremen this month.

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