Prolific Crouch stakes his claim

England 3 Belarus 0

Peter Crouch declared his intention to be part of Fabio Capello's magnificent seven as England rounded off their World Cup qualifying campaign with victory over Belarus.

Prior to the start of this evening's finale against Belarus, Capello stated that just seven of the 23 positions he has to fill ahead of next summer's World Cup are vacant.

It took Crouch less than 200 seconds to show that he should be there, before adding another 15 minutes from the end, sandwiching a Shaun Wright-Phillips effort created by David Beckham.

Once again it highlighted how much more prolific Crouch is than Emile Heskey. In his three starts under Capello, the Tottenham has scored four times, more than half of Heskey's entire 57-cap international career.

Capello is looking for much more than that though and by the time England next play a competitive match, Crouch will know if his overall record of 18 goals in 35 games has been enough.

So too will Michael Owen, who remains stuck on 40 for his country, but whose only involvement was as an invited guest, along with the likes of Joe Lewis and Jimmy Bullard, who are also among the 55 players called up by Capello in the 20 games since he replaced Steve McClaren.

The only consolation about the dreaded Mexican wave rolling round a stadium containing an impressive 75,000 fans was that, in the final game of what appeared to be a pretty stiff section, those present were relaxed enough to engage in it rather that perch nervously on the edge of their seats.

Crouch's flying start had taken any edge that was present off the game, potentially providing the platform from which England could complete the competitive element of their build-up to South Africa 2010 in cruise mode.

Unfortunately, apart from the industry of Gareth Barry, a few eye-catching bursts from Gabriel Agbonlahor and the sporadic threat Crouch presented to the visitors' goal, it was a drab opening period.

It could be argued, Crouch was part of the problem.

What the Tottenham striker provides in angular awkwardness and difficulty to mark, he loses in strength.

Heskey's power is the major reason Capello likes him so much. He may only give you six out of 10 but he can draw eights and nines out of his team-mates.

With Crouch, it is sevens all round, which will account for Belarus but not the most accomplished teams on the planet.

No-one was complaining in the fourth minute as Agbonlahor raced onto a defence-splitting pass from former Aston Villa team-mate Barry.

Agbonlahor cut back a low cross, which Crouch stuck out a big leg to reach. Hardly a precise strike. Enough though as it trundled over the line.

Crouch fired a shot wide and also a header inside the opening quarter-hour as the game took on the impression of a one-man scoring mission before settling into a far mundane stalemate in which the red Belarus shirts stood out equally as much as England's not-so-brilliant white.

The fluidity provided by those regular interchanges between Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard was missing. Crouch cannot be buzzed around like Heskey.

On his first competitive start, Agbonlahor cut a determined figure.

There was only one thought on his mind as he charged onto a Barry through-ball, even with Frank Lampard, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon streaming up in support. Unfortunately Yury Zhevnov knew what was coming and made a sturdy block.

A feeling persists that Crouch and Agbonlahor are scrapping it out for a single place. The same could also be said of Aaron Lennon and Wright-Phillips.

If that is true, Wright-Phillips won this particular battle.

In truth, both men had expended a lot of energy doing not very much.

But Wright-Phillips profited from Lennon's exit just before the hour mark in more ways that one. Not only was he on the pitch longer, it was also the Tottenham man's replacement, Beckham, who created his goal.

There is as much debate about Beckham's likely presence among Capello's final 23 as anyone.

His man-of-the-match award might have been a bit excessive but it is an inescapable fact the midfielder, who will be 35 before the World Cup gets under way, makes things happen.

The short corner he took to provide Wright-Phillips with his shooting chance did not look particularly inspiring. But no-one else had tried it and the result was a doubling of England's advantage, although Zhevnov's attempt to save was poor.

In contrast, Ben Foster produced a fine one-handed save to deny Sergei Omelyanchuk, a timely confidence boost given he is just about to lose his first-team place at Manchester United to Edwin van der Sar.

England were not quite finished. Beckham followed James Milner's lead by hitting the post with a shot he thought was going in.

By that time, Crouch had tapped home the rebound from a parried Carlton Cole effort.

In four games' time, he will know whether he has become one of Capello's chosen few.

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