Rising star exposes the limitations of Heskey

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The Independent Online

Questions still to be answered, but this was hardly the appropriate debating chamber. As almost always in England friendlies, whatever cases were made here barely elicited a shrug never mind a definitive yes or no. Although Jermain Defoe will understandably claim otherwise.

Will his fine individual goal on the hour-mark convince Fabio Capello he should start alongside Wayne Rooney in the anticipated World Cup qualifying parade against Croatia here on Wednesday? Probably not. It seems cruel to say but Defoe's international career seems destined to be spent largely among the substitutes.

This was his 36th cap but 24 have come from the bench. He hasn't started a match for his country in a year; but, remarkably, has now scored five in the last three England internationals. A compelling case, surely? "I haven't had time yet to decide," was Capello's response to that query.

Even Defoe himself is not so sure. "At the moment everything I hit seems to be going in," said the 26-year-old, who has scored four in as many League games for Spurs. "Everyone wants to play but if I can come on and make an impact I'll do that. I don't want to say too much. The manager picks the team. I'll just keep working hard and see what happens."

He is wise to be so realistic. In many respects the most revealing aspect of this latest advertisement for the merits of a warm-weather training camp was the teamsheet. All week the whispers told us this would either be a chance for Defoe to play from the beginning or Carlton Cole, or even both. As it was, Capello stuck with Emile Heskey. That's seven starts in the last 10 for the man who is in danger of being classed as Capello's favourite.

So much for the Italian's insistence that he always picks on form. When it comes to Heskey, Capello must mean international form. Since Villa's opening day defeat to Wigan, Heskey has had just 10 minutes of League action. John Carew is favoured and the feeling is that Martin O'Neill does not believe the two big men could play together. It would be a worry for the 31-year-old if that remains the case. Capello's loyalty would surely be stretched if it came to May and his target man was covered in rust.

While Heskey's lack of goals is causing consternation in certain sections at Villa (two since he joined in January), any Capello anxiety would likely focus on his sharpness. There will then be a decision to make. But that will be then, and this is now.

Despite Defoe's moment of brilliance – the one true piece of quality on an otherwise desperate night – the smart money will remain on Heskey lining up against the Croatians. His recent spell of comparative inactivity meant he needed this run. "I wanted to see his condition," confirmed Capello. And despite his claim that "Heskey did well", in truth his contribution summed up 45 minutes of ineffective England. There was the occasional nice flick on to Rooney, notably when he rose above a Slovenian centre-half. That is where Heskey excels. Where he palpably doesn't is when the chance is laid on his plate. In the 38th minute Rooney flashed over a wicked centre, but Heskey's header was weak.

The statistic of seven goals in 54 international appearances inevitably swirled around the stadium. It proceeded to build up speed when Defoe extended his rich vein.

For the fans, the small man's merits inevitably seem so much more obvious. In his press conferences, Capello has maintained that Little and Little, a Defoe and Rooney partnership, could work. Does he truly believe that? Defoe's goal was beautifully taken and yelled of a marksman in the midst of a purple patch. But with Capello, shape will likely continue to come first. The very least Defoe did last night, however, was challenge the great tactician. After all, it is all about form.

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