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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 10:20 GMT
World Cup scouting - Stewart Downing
Sven-Goran ErikssonStewart DowningSupportersSteve McClarenWill Stewart Downing be going to Germany?

By Ian Hughes
BBC Sport at The Valley

On 8 May, head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will announce the group of 23 players that he believes can win the World Cup for England.

Until that time, speculation is sure to continue over the exact make-up of the squad as the build-up to the finals in Germany intensifies.

In the third of a series of scouting missions, BBC Sport runs the rule over Middlesbrough's exciting young winger Stewart Downing.

ENGLAND HISTORY

It has been said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. I disagree. There is a third - England's left-sided problem.

But recently Downing has been touted as the solution to Eriksson's footballing Sudoku: The Boro winger supposedly the perfect number 11 to complete England's formation.

That was before Chelsea's Joe Cole metamorphosed from ball-juggling trickster to 'got-the-lot' footballer - and before Downing suffered a knee injury which sidelined him for five months at the end of 2005.

And for all the hype, an appearance as a second-half substitute in the 0-0 draw with Holland in February 2005 is Downing's only senior England cap.

Not much of an England history to speak of then. However, at just 21-years-old, Downing is one for the future - but will that include a seat on the plane to Germany?

STEWART DOWNING - THE FORM GUIDE

At his best, Downing has pace to burn, can rival David Beckham with the quality of his crosses and is regularly credited with assists.

In Middlesbrough's 0-0 draw at Charlton in the FA Cup on Thursday, Downing showed glimpses that he was approaching top form.

A couple of surging runs past fellow England hopeful and Charlton right-back Luke Young demonstrated that Downing's speed has not deserted him.

One of those bursts came near the end of the match, and he delivered a superb cross at full pace after a lengthy sprint. So it seems, the winger is returning to full fitness.

And his eye for goal seems to be sharpening - with a well-struck free-kick evidence of the sweet left foot many would like to see firing in balls from the England flank.

However, Downing's attack-minded mentality meant Frank Queudrue was exposed a few times - his tracking back can still be improved.

Overall, Downing looked a threat coming forward, although still lacking a little confidence, and put in a decent performance.

WHAT THE SUPPORTERS THINK

He doesn't seem like he's been fit for the last few weeks. He hasn't really been beating any men, and his crossing - other than when he set up Jimmy's goal against Roma - hasn't been of the highest level. I doubt he'll make it to Germany.
borocooper, via the 606 messageboards.

I thought he looked sharp against Charlton. He seemed quicker, hungrier and looked dangerous when we counter attacked. Not sure he's in better form than Cole, though.
Joe, Middlesbrough fan.

Maybe a replay is a good thing for Downing. His problem is that there aren't many games left to impress Sven - and now he has one more! But if he'd scored with that free-kick, he would have done himself some good - and put us through to the semis!
Clare, Middlesbrough fan.

On his day, he can be the best left winger in the country, and has brilliant crossing ability from open play and dead ball situations. He has improved his tracking back and tackling and, with more games under his belt, will be back on top form.
Borofromafar7, via the 606, messageboards.

I felt he flattered to deceive tonight. He put a couple of decent crosses in but I still think he's lacking a bit of pace and fitness. Maybe he'll go to Germany, but not as first-choice ahead of Cole.
Tony, Middlesbrough fan.

WHAT THE GAFFER THINKS

It is always important to impress your boss, but even more so for Downing, whose gaffer happens to be part of the England coaching set-up.

Yet judging by Boro manager Steve McClaren's comments, there is no sign of nepotism from the head of the Riverside family.

"I had a word with Stewart and told him 'don't even think about the World Cup and England'," said McClaren.

"He needs to just think about getting back playing, getting back playing well and helping Boro win football matches."

THE VERDICT

Downing, who plays very much as an old fashioned outside-half, realistically has only an outside chance of making Sven's squad.

DOWNING'S COMPETITION
Joe Cole, Kieran Richardson, Wayne Bridge

When fully fit, focused and in positive mood, Downing is probably the best naturally left-sided player England could call upon.

But there seems to be a spark missing from his game since his injury - and although that seems to be returning, it may come too late for him to go to the World Cup.

It would take something special in the few games remaining for Downing to force his way into the reckoning, but he undoubtedly has the talent.

Perhaps the question is whether he has the application - and enough time on the pitch - to join his boss McClaren in Germany.




SEE ALSO
Charlton 0-0 Middlesbrough
23 Mar 06 |  FA Cup
World Cup scouting - Andrew Johnson
20 Mar 06 |  World Cup 2006
World Cup scouting - Scott Parker
22 Mar 06 |  World Cup 2006


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