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Beckham's professionalism has impressed Hiddink
Russia coach Guus Hiddink believes England are favourites to go through to Euro 2008 from Group E - especially now David Beckham is back in the fold.
Croatia and Israel top the group on 17 points, with Russia two points adrift and England a further point behind.
Hiddink told Five Live Sport: "There are four competing for two positions and I think it is a group of death.
"From their past, you cannot ignore England to be the favourites. And England with Beckham is even better."
Hiddink says he is impressed with the way Beckham has forced his way back into the reckoning for both Real Madrid and England this season.
In January, Real coach Fabio Capello announced Beckham would never play for the club again, while England boss Steve McClaren left the midfielder out of his initial squads after taking the job last summer.
I think Beckham will be available in the autumn against us
Yet the former England skipper has fought back to become a crucial figure for both club and country.
"Beckham did a good job," former Real Madrid manager Hiddink said.
"I think he was very professional when he announced he was to go to United States and then did his job in Madrid.
"I know from my own experience how difficult it is in Madrid, but he did his job and regained his position.
"From that he regained his position in the national squad. You have to have respect for what he's achieved in the past months."
Beckham will join up with his new LA Galaxy team-mates at the end of the Spanish League season, in two weeks' time.
This has led to questions about whether he will be able to commute to Europe for England's remaining five Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Hiddink believes the former England skipper will be there to face his side at Wembley in September and Russia in October.
"I think he will be available also in the autumn against us," Hiddink said.
"If you see the England potential, you can already make a very good team, with Beckham extra."
Russia drew 0-0 with group leaders Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday, yet Hiddink believes they are still a team "in transition".
"Young players are coming into the team and that's what I'm very happy with," he said.
"Our oldest two players now are 28 and 29, so that's good. We are in transition with the team, infrastructure, modernising the youth development.
"But I'm very happy working in Russia, I enjoy it very much."
Hiddink has been linked with several Premiership clubs, including Chelsea and Manchester City, yet the Dutchman insists he is happy with his current post - so long as the Russian FA can match his ambition.
"As long as I feel ambition also from their side, if they are going to invest in the future, I am happy to work there," he said.
"If I see some obstruction, there is a new situation. But that will be after the European Championship."