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Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 13:35 UK

World Cup scouting: strikers

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BBC pundits pick their England World Cup squad

Alan Shearer
By Alan Shearer
Former England captain and BBC Sport pundit

Wayne Rooney is to England what Lionel Messi is to Argentina, what Kaka is to Brazil and what David Villa and Fernando Torres are to Spain.

While I would not go as far to say that England have no hope of winning the World Cup if Rooney is injured, their chances will be significantly reduced in South Africa if he is unable to play.

606: DEBATE
Alistair M - BBC Sport

Rooney has scored 34 goals for Manchester United this season and proven he is more than capable of playing up front on his own.

However, England manager Fabio Capello has already said he prefers to play with two strikers, so I believe he will stick with his tried and tested 4-4-2 formation, playing Rooney up front alongside either Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch or Jermain Defoe.

I think Heskey will be Capello's choice because the Rooney/Heskey pairing was so successful in qualifying. I would agree with that selection, too, although there will inevitably be a lot of debate about Heskey's involvement.

He has not chalked up many goals or games this season but people did not question the Aston Villa player when England won all but one of their 10 games in qualifying and scored 33 goals in the process.

THE CONTENDERS

Even though Capello thinks that Rooney and Heskey are the best partnership for England, whether that lasts throughout the World Cup remains to be seen. I suspect it won't because the Italian will have to use different strikers at different times.

Heskey is not a thoroughbred goalscorer but he never has been and never will be. That might sound like a strange thing to say about a striker, but the 32-year-old brings other qualities to the team that are not easily replicated by the other contenders.

HESKEY AND ZAMORA THIS SEASON
Emile Heskey and Bobby Zamora
29 - League appearances - 27
3 ------ League goals ------ 8
2 ---------- Assists ---------- 6
57 -- Total England caps -- 0
7 -- Total England goals -- 0

At times, Crouch cannot do what Heskey does for the team, although the 6ft 7in Tottenham forward has a very good goalscoring record for England with 20 goals in just 37 appearances. Club-mate Defoe is also a proven goalscorer, but I'm not sure he will start alongside Rooney.

Elsewhere, there has been a lot of discussion about whether Fulham's Bobby Zamora can make a late charge into the England squad.

Both he and Sunderland's Darren Bent have had very good seasons and could not have done any more to force their way into the reckoning. However, I think Capello will stick with the players who have performed so well for him so far.

I like the way Zamora can hold the ball up and bring people into the game, while his 19 goals this season have made everyone sit up and take notice. But England built a momentum over the qualifying campaign and I'm not sure Capello will want to disrupt that now.

The same argument applies to Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor, who is his club's top scorer this season with 16 goals. As for Carlton Cole, his chances of going to the World Cup are diminishing by the week. The West Ham striker has featured in some of England's recent games, but I think he is too similar to Crouch and Heskey. Playing for a struggling club side has not helped his case either.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

I can understand the argument people use against Heskey. How can a striker be in the team if he is not scoring goals, particularly when Crouch has such a fantastic record?

CROUCH AND COLE THIS SEASON
Peter Crouch and Carlton Cole
35 - League appearances - 28
7 ------- League goals ------- 9
7 ------ League assists ------ 4
37 --- Total England caps --- 7
20 -- Total England goals -- 0

Well, in answer to that question, Heskey brings strength and a focal point to the England team. Players can pass to him to relieve pressure, knowing that he will hold the ball up and bring others into the game. That is not to be underestimated when you are trying to maintain possession.

Also, England qualified for South Africa by scoring 33 goals, almost double the number they scored in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and nine more than they scored in their ill-fated Euro 2008 qualification campaign, which featured two more games.

So whichever way you look at it, England are hitting the back of the net with Heskey in the team. In fact, since Capello took over the job, England have only lost once when Heskey has started - the 1-0 defeat to Ukraine last October when goalkeeper Robert Green was sent off after 13 minutes.

The only issue with Heskey is that Capello usually says he wants players in his squad that are playing and are in form. That is not the case with the Villa man at the moment.

With his goals-to-games ratio for England being what it is, Crouch might have reason to wonder why he has not been a regular starter.

DEFOE AND BENT THIS SEASON
Jerman  Defoe and Darren Bent
31 - League appearances - 36
18 ------ League goals ------ 24
5 ------ League assists ------ 4
39 --- Total England caps --- 5
11 -- Total England goals -- 0

I suspect he will start at some point in the World Cup, but he is a good impact player and gives Capello options. I don't buy the argument that he only scores against so-called lesser teams. You score goals or you don't score goals. Who they come against simply does not matter.

Bent, who has scored 25 goals for his club this season, is like Defoe in that he can get in behind a defence and stretch teams. Both players can change a game, but I don't think either of them will start alongside Rooney.

It is difficult for players like Bent to make an impression when they might only get 20 minutes, but they cannot worry about that. They must concentrate on their club form - and Bent has done that.

VERDICT

I think Rooney, Heskey, Crouch and Defoe will all go to the World Cup. If Capello takes five strikers, which I think he probably will, then I think there is a space for either Bent or Zamora. Personally, I think it will be Bent who goes to South Africa.

Alan Shearer was talking to Alistair Magowan



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see also
World Cup scouting: left midfield
20 Apr 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: attacking midfield
15 Apr 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: right midfield
16 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: defensive midfield
06 Apr 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: centre-backs
23 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: left-backs
02 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: right-backs
12 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: goalkeepers
30 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010


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