Pennant pins hopes on England call

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The Independent Online

Qualification for the Champions' League has guaranteed £12m for Liverpool, essential income for a club that had spent the windfall before overcoming Maccabi Haifa in Kiev but, as they await their fate in today's group draw in Monaco, it is recognition, not riches, that Jermaine Pennant hopes to acquire from a place among the European élite.

The £6.7m summer signing from Birmingham was one of the few individual successes for Rafael Benitez at the Valeri Lobanovskiy Stadium on Tuesday, his pace and distribution on the right wing providing a constant threat against the Israeli champions before he created the crucial breakthrough for Peter Crouch. It was a performance that hinted at why the Liverpool manager ignored the 23-year-old's troubled past to offer him a final chance to fulfil his undoubted talent at the highest level of the English game, and a further indication from Pennant that he intends to seize it.

Reputations can be harder to lose than the electronic tag that once adorned the winger's ankle at St Andrew's, but a regular role in a side with Premiership hopes and a place in the Champions' League represents an encouraging start for a player burdened by expectation since his £2m transfer from Notts County to Arsenal a week before his 16th birthday in 1999.

"I came to Liverpool to play amongst the best and against the best. It is an extra bonus to play in the Champions' League and if I can do well in that then the whole team will benefit," Pennant said. "Playing in the Champions' League can only improve my England chances as well. If you are proving yourself in the Champions' League, then it is going to be at the back of the England manager's mind to pick you."

International talk may seem premature at the embryonic stage of Pennant's Liverpool career but, like Crouch before him, it becomes inevitable following a move to Anfield where Benitez has challenged his summer purchase to claim his first England cap this season. Steve McClaren was at Anfield to witness the Nottingham-born midfielder's performance in the first leg against Haifa.

Pennant added: "The only thing left for me is to play for my country. If that could happen, it would be a great turnaround for me."

The Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko will be out for at least two weeks with the knee injury he sustained in Kiev on Tuesday.

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