The Sunderland striker Darren Bent is refusing to give up on his World Cup dream. The 26-year-old has scored 16 goals since his summer move from Tottenham to put himself in contention to board the England plane for South Africa.
However, with the England manager, Fabio Capello, due to announce his squad at the weekend for the friendly with Egypt as Bent goes head to head with surprise contender Bobby Zamora at club level, time is running out for him to prove to the Italian that he has a role to play.
But, as he has done ever since his £10m switch to Sunderland, he is simply concentrating on his job on Wearside and allowing the rest to take care of itself. Bent said: "It would be nice to be involved. I don't think I have done my chances any harm this season. There are only Wayne Rooney and maybe Jermain [Defoe] who have scored more goals than I have as an out-and-out front man.
"All I can do is keep working hard, keeping doing well for Sunderland – there's no more that I can do. If it doesn't happen, I will move on."
Bent's desperation to be involved is all the more acute because he believes England have a genuine chance of returning with the trophy after being drawn in Group C along with the United States, Algeria and Slovenia. He said: "England have got a great chance of winning the World Cup. If we can play as a team and maintain the form that we are in, there's no reason we can't win the World Cup. It was a good draw for England. It's there for us, but it will be tough."
In the meantime, Bent's focus ison Sunday's game with Fulham and Sunderland's efforts to end their 13-game run without a league win. "Sunderland comes first," he said," I would put the club before anything. Getting them out of trouble and us having a good season is before anything."
One player whose chances are being talked up is the Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart, widely expected to be part of Capello's squad for the Egypt game and go on to start his first full international. As the man who spotted Hart when he was a teenager at Shrewsbury and signed him for Manchester City for £1.5m, Stuart Pearce knows the keeper better than most.
"When we first saw Joe we felt he had a lot of the attributes required to become a top goalkeeper," said Pearce, who managed Hart at England Under-21 level and is an important member of Capello's current back-room team. "He is 6ft 4in and his distribution, with both hands and feet, is fantastic. More than that, he has a relaxed, laid-back temperament."