It's easy to forget that Joe Cole, the man who seemed to have been on the periphery of Fabio Capello's vision after a season of such minimal club football, was actually the man who got England's World Cup qualifying campaign under way in the first place. Cole scored twice against Andorra in Barcelona, 21 long months ago, in the opening Group Six match which Capello's charges were drawing 0-0 at half-time. It was some arrival from Cole: the goals came within 10 minutes of his introduction as a second-half substitute, sparing Capello an ignominious start to international tournament football.
Capello doesn't forget performances like that and the symmetry between Cole's half-time introduction that autumn day in Barcelona's Estadio Olimpico and again on Sunday suggests that the Chelsea player is, in the nicest possible way, a valuable one-half wonder. Cole had played only 55 minutes of international football between the Andorra and Japan fixtures, remember, because four days after the virtuoso performance against the Andorrans came a bad head injury in Croatia – and then his prolonged absence with cruciate ligament damage to his knee.
Cole's team-mate John Terry was reminded of the handful the midfielder can be in training sessions at Cobden when he witnessed the dynamic role he played in Japan – operating behind Wayne Rooney at first – which saw him have hands in both of the own-goals which Takeshi Okada's players gifted England. "It was interesting to see Joe play in behind Wayne," Terry reflected yesterday. "He caused a lot of problems and, speaking from a defender's point of view, it's hard to know whether to go with him, stay tight or let him have the ball."
The cross from Cole which was diverted in by Yuji Nakazawa revealed the 28-year-old's capacity to make things change in a moment and he provided the intensity which was missing in a poor first half in Graz's UPC Arena. But there were other aspects of Cole's play which, on first viewing, were easy to overlook. Cole drifts dangerously between midfield and attack and his passing can be exquisite at times. He supplied a visionary ball through a cluster of Japanese players to Ashley Cole for England's second goal in Austria. "He causes defenders all sorts of problems when he floats in between the midfield and the front men," Terry said. "He can see passes, too. Look at the ball through for Ashley Cole. He's made a big impact and he'll just have to wait and see."
Terry assiduously avoided talk of Capello's vexed contract issues by diverting questions on the subject into a discussion on Joe Cole's demands for an improved deal at Stamford Bridge, which may see him leave Chelsea. "Joe's contract is up and a couple of others, but his [Capello's] clear focus is to speak after the World Cup. Hopefully, he will do the same. It's a time now to knuckle down and concentrate on us. Obviously we'd love [Capello] to stay. We've got a massive tournament, we've got a manager – you know how he is – he doesn't want any distractions."
Terry was also as diplomatic as he could be about the final 23, with the sensitivities of Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips in mind, but he did not disguise the sense that Cole will be at this month's tournament. "Towards the end of the season when we've needed big players, Joe Cole has been one of them at Chelsea. The manager will make that final decision but he's seen enough of Joe – what he's done in the last 10 days and against Japan – to know what he can do."
Capello's observations yesterday suggested Terry had read his mind precisely. "[Cole] played always really good with us. I know him very well before he was injured," the England manager said. "Now he is back because I saw the game he played, sometimes [from] half-time, sometimes 25 minutes. He is good. Very fresh."
England players face day of destiny
England coach Fabio Capello will cut his squad of 30 to 23 today. Here are his final dilemmas:
Goalkeepers: Robert Green, David James, Joe Hart
Defenders: Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson
Midfielders: Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Theo Walcott, Michael Carrick
Forwards: Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey
If Gareth Barry is fit
Heading home: Tom Huddlestone
If Gareth Barry is not fit
Heading home: Gareth Barry
Stephen Warnock or Leighton Baines
Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips