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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
England hero Cole stakes claim
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Rooney and Cole celebrate

Joe Cole's status as the brightest hope for England's future has long been eclipsed by the rise of the brilliant Everton teenager Wayne Rooney.

Cole - so long tipped for greatness - had almost become the forgotten man among the new young gems in England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's collection.

And his reduced circumstances with England were confirmed when he suffered the embarrassment of being demoted to Under-21s duty after a lengthy stint with the seniors.

Cole may have shone amid the wreckage of West Ham's relegation, but with England he was overshadowed by the new breed symbolised by Rooney and Newcastle's Jermaine Jenas.

So when he was thrown a lifeline by Kieron Dyer's latest injury, Cole needed to deliver his clearest message of intent to the doubting Eriksson that he could still be an England force.

And he delivered compelling evidence in a brief but explosive substitute's appearance against Serbia & Montenegro that brought the reward of a winner in the 2-1 victory from a free-kick absent captain David Beckham would have revelled in.

Cole was busy, dangerous - and complimented the brooding menace of Rooney to give England a flourish on another night of frustrating experimentation by Eriksson.

He may not have played his way into Eriksson's starting line-up to face Slovakia next Wednesday, but it was a timely reminder that his talent will not be easily ignored.

Elsewhere, it appeared Eriksson was conducting little more than a run-out for those he wants to perform more important deeds at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium.

Manchester United's Phil Neville may have complicated matters with a solid performance as the midfield anchor, a role that appeared to have been reserved for Owen Hargreaves.

Neville's re-invention as an international midfielder may stretch the bounds of credibility, but it certainly gave Eriksson food for thought.

Hargreaves himself was energetic, and he may yet get the nod against Slovakia.

Eriksson's other selection dilemma revolves around who should partner Michael Owen in attack, but Rooney looks to have edged into pole position ahead of Emile Heskey.

Heskey is unfailingly game, but no matter how much his admirers attempt to talk up his physical threat, he still falls short at international level and rarely poses a danger.

Rooney, even though not at his best, is a figure of energetic arrogance who struts the international stage with a physical presence rare in a 17-year-old and is an ever-present threat.

England's main worry is the continuing failure to defend set pieces which may yet cost them dear.

Elsewhere, the main objectives of a victory and a night free from serious injury worries were achieved.

But for Cole - devastated by West Ham's drop out of the Premiership - it was a night when he took the first step on the road back to re-establishing his England credentials.






ENGLAND'S SUMMER MATCHES

ENGLAND 2-1 SLOVAKIA

ENGLAND 2-1 SERBIA & M

SOUTH AFRICA 1-2 ENGLAND


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