Return to form earns Gardner place in England squad

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The Independent Football

If Anthony Gardner times his tackling on Sunday as well as he has timed his return to form and fitness, the Tottenham defender could have a long international future ahead of him.

A month ago, Gardner was England's 10th-choice centre-half at best. Then his rivals began to drop by the wayside and his own game revived. Yesterday the 23-year-old was called into the England squad for Sunday's Old Trafford friendly against Denmark after Sven Goran Eriksson lost his fourth senior centre-half. Already without Rio Ferdinand, unavailable pending the hearing following his failure to take a drugs test, Eriksson yesterday heard that Gareth Southgate had joined Sol Campbell, Jonathan Woodgate and Martin Keown in succumbing to injury. The Middlesbrough defender, whose recall was a surprise after he criticised Eriksson, has a thigh injury.

A month ago, Eriksson would have sent for Zat Knight, of Fulham, or Ledley King, Gardner's Spurs team-mate. But Knight's form has dipped and King is being played in midfield. The only other prospects, Matthew Upson and John Terry, will start Sunday's match. If Eriksson maintains his usual substitution policy, Gardner will get an outing from the bench.

England also have fitness doubts over David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. Beckham, who suffered a back injury in Real Madrid's 4-1 defeat by Sevilla at the weekend, will be assessed by England's medical staff when he reports for duty tomorrow. He was omitted from Real's squad for a friendly against Valladolid last night.

England staff will also speak to Everton today about Rooney, who missed the defeat by Blackburn Rovers on Monday with flu. Beckham's record suggests he will be fit to play at least a half but Rooney will only be included if he is fully recovered. David Moyes, having seen his Everton team drop into the bottom three, is unlikely to be in a generous mood.

If Rooney is absent Eriksson would have to call up another striker, probably James Beattie or Alan Smith, both of whom were snubbed by Monday's selection. One alternative that Eriksson hinted at was playing Joe Cole as a support striker.

The 6ft 5in Gardner was signed from Port Vale as a 19-year-old. He had made only 40 League starts for the Potteries club but has been so troubled by injury, competition for places and dips in form that he has yet to match that figure in four years at White Hart Lane.

This season he has finally begun to demonstrate the form which persuaded David Pleat, then identifying young talent as Tottenham's director of football, to pay £1m for him. He was part of the Spurs defence which was regularly shredded in the final days of Glenn Hoddle's reign but since Pleat became acting manager the team have kept clean sheets in five of the six matches he has played in. "He is a player I have watched several times and I know he played very well against Arsenal on Saturday," Eriksson said. "This is a good opportunity for him and a good opportunity for me to have a look at him."

It is to be hoped that Gardner, who used to be a sprinter, will move quicker than his website which, as of yesterday evening, had not been updated since March. Perhaps this is because the entries mainly concern injuries. Now, at last, he has some good news to put on it.

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