By Owen Phillips
BBC Sport at Stamford Bridge
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.
BBC Sport runs the rule over Manchester City striker Darius Vassell as he looks to force his way back into Eriksson's plans.
Vassell has enjoyed a return to the form which earned him his first England cap in 2002 with a series of all-action displays for City this season.
The former Aston Villa frontman marked that England debut against Holland with a fine goal in a draw in Amsterdam and forced his way in to the World Cup squad for Japan and South Korea.
DARIUS VASSELL FACTFILE
Born: 13 June 1980, Birmingham
Clubs: Aston Villa, Manchester City
Career games: 235
Career goals: 54
England caps: 22
England goals: 6
But after earning more than 20 caps in a two-and-a-half-year spell, a number of niggling injuries and a lack of form at club level saw him fall out of favour.
A £2m move to City has rejuvenated the pacy striker and he has flourished alongside Andy Cole and more recently Georgios Samaras.
Vassell has not featured in an England squad since October 2004 and has not played for the national team since missing the vital kick in a penalty shoot-out against Portugal in the European Championship.
But the 25-year-year-old has proved he has the ability to make the grade at international level, grabbing six goals despite only starting four times in his 22-cap career.
Vassell needs a hernia operation but would surely postpone that if asked to go to Germany.
DARIUS VASSELL - THE FORM GUIDE
Vassell has benefited from an injury-free season at Eastlands. His confidence has been restored after a disastrous end to his Villa career and his partnership with Cole has blossomed.
He seems to have matured as a player, and showed he has added a bit more nous to his all-action running game against champions-elect Chelsea on Saturday.
Despite being forced to chase countless lost causes, Vassell did a fine job in occupying John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho throughout - a not inconsiderable achievement as he had to play up front on on his own and City played with 10 men for 45 minutes.
He was a threat in possession, didn't give the ball away once and his tireless work went a long way to making up for City's lack of numbers.
Vassell won a surprising number of headers and his awareness - while not putting him in the Teddy Sheringham class - has come on leaps and bounds since his Euro 2004 appearance against Portugal and Carvalho where he replaced Wayne Rooney and looked out of his depth.
VASSELL'S GOAL RECORD
2005/06: 9 in 34 games
2004/05: 3 in 22 games
2003/04: 10 in 39 games
2002/03: 11 in 38 games
2001/02: 14 in 45 games
But what use is a striker whose goals-to-games ratio is only marginally better than one in four? Vassell's finishing can be hopelessly wayward. Can England justify having a "team player" up front who contributes very little in the goals column?
Vassell did manage one shot on goal but after neatly side-stepping Carvalho he shot tamely at Petr Cech.
His only other sight of goal saw him take up a fine position on the left only to be wrongly flagged offside and deprived a one-on-one chance.
At Stamford Bridge he did not get the chance to disprove the non-scoring forward tag but certainly did enough to suggest the other areas of his game are up to speed. He was sharp and alert, took up some excellent postions and was a constant nuisance.
WHAT THE SUPPORTERS THINK
Vassell has been ok for us this season. He always gives 100%, charges down defenders and runs for lost balls but his finishing is what lets him down, as well as confidence, he has got a injury so i doubt he will be picked for Germany and I think Sven has made up his mind on who is going.
Feebmcfc, via messageboards.
I think Darius has had a good season, it's a fair point that he does need to score more goals but his work rate is phenomenal, and he's a quality team player. England have got some quality forwards at the minute, but if he could add goals he would be a useful inclusion.
LeeBellSummerbee, via messageboards.
He's a pacy, strong and hard-working striker but has not scored enough goals to go to the World Cup. He is well behind the likes of Owen, Rooney, Defoe, Crouch, Bent, Beattie and possibly Ashton.
Keith, Chelsea fan.
I don't think Vassell has done enough this season to warrant a World Cup call up. England need their strikers to be full of confidence and scoring on a regular basis. Unfortunately he doesn't fit into this bracket as his goal per game ratio isn't good enough.
Richard, City fan
Our player of the season so far in my opinion. The only thing stopping him from being on that plane to Germany is his shirt colour.
TimLik, via 606 messageboards.
In tournaments like the World Cup I believe you need strikers who will definitely score goals like Owen and Rooney, and although Vassell is a good player, I don't think he is the right man at the minute. if he puts in alot of work next season then he could be in contention for Euro 2008 as an alternative to Owen and Rooney.
Swindogg, via 606 messageboards.
Vassell works hard and helps to create so many chances for the team but for a frontline striker, he simply doesn't score enough. Don't get me wrong, when Vassell and Cole play together they really seem to compliment each other but Vassell seems to be a confidence player and if it's not rolling for him, he suffers. I'm still glad he's a Blue though.
Levunshulme-Blue, via 606 messageboards.
WHAT THE GAFFER THINKS
Manchester City boss Stuart Pearce has been full of praise for his summer signing from Villa and believes he is worthy of a place in Eriksson's final 23.
"If Darius plays like he has at times this season it would be impossible to keep him out of the squad," Pearce said.
"His pace and strength were major reasons why we earmarked him during the summer and things have worked out well for him and us."
Pearce is adamant that an on-song Vassell has all the attributes to shine in Germany - as he has done with a number of match-winning performances for City this term.
Vassell settled into his stride very early on and since some eye-catching pre-Christmas performances, has been the epitome of consistency.
And consistency was the only thing Pearce felt he needed to prove to Eriksson.
"What he has to do is maintain his standards. Providing he can achieve that he would be in the England squad because I can't see four people offering more than he has given in certain games for us this season."
Vassell's omission from the England set-up for the past couple of years would seem to suggest his chances are slim.
But with only Rooney and Crouch fit and seemingly assured of their places, an in-form and fully functioning Vassell cannot be discounted.
Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe, Andrew Johnson, James Beattie
Eriksson's snub for the friendly against Uruguay was more down to wanting to see Darren Bent at international level - a chance the Charlton man failed to grasp.
There was nothing to be gained from seeing Vassell; he has proved he is comfortable at the top level and if anything has looked more effective when surrounded by quality players than during a couple of indifferent seasons playing for an inconsistent Villa side.
His energetic and impressive displays for City show he is in form - and if Eriksson opts for the tried and trusted then it wouldn't be an earth-shattering surprise if Vassell sneaked in as the final striker.
But Owen (injury allowing) and Defoe are first in line at the moment and Vassell is in truth secretly pinning his World Cup hopes on a late injury to one of his fellow forwards.
His performance at Stamford Bridge indicates he is a more than capabale replacement if called upon but the metatarsal injury curse may need to strike again.