Darren Bent has been handed a final chance to stake his claim for a place in England's squad after Fabio Capello named the striker in the side to face Japan in the their final warm-up game. Capello, who must cut his 30-man provisional squad to 23 by Tuesday, has made changes to the side that beat Mexico 3-1 at Wembley on Monday and given starts to Bent and Tom Huddlestone, the hulking Tottenham Hotspur midfielder
"Bent is fit, he will play from the start," Capello told Sky television ahead of the match in Graz, Austria, today. With Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch assured of their places in the squad, Bent is competing for a place in the final 23 with Emile Heskey and Jermain Defoe. The Sunderland striker, who missed the game against Mexico with a hamstring injury, had been tipped by English media as the striker most likely to miss out on a place in the final squad.
"I already know the players who have been with us during qualification very well," Capello told reporters on Saturday. "Here we have new players. For me these are the ones who it is most important to check. We need to know everything about what positions they take up on the pitch and what they do in key moments throughout the game." England are still anxious about the fitness of Gareth Barry, the holding midfielder who is racing against time to be fit for the tournament after injuring ankle ligaments playing for Manchester City against Tottenham on May 5.
"He has improved a lot," Capello said of the combative Barry's recovery. "He is getting better and better. The doctor says he is really good. But we have to wait until the last check next Tuesday. After that we will decide whether he will be with us in South Africa." The battle to provide cover for the injured midfielder is between Huddlestone, Manchester United's Michael Carrick and West Ham's Scott Parker.
While Carrick played against Mexico, Huddlestone's selection in the heart of the midfield for Sunday's game could spell the end of Parker's hopes. "I want to see Huddlestone," added Capello. "The midfield is very important for the balance of the team." Capello said Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool midfielder who had sparked fitness worries after the victory over Mexico, should feature at some point against Japan.
"He is fit. He was tired after the game against Mexico," said Capello. "He won't play the first half against Japan but probably the second half." Alex Horne, the new English Football Association general secretary, will meet Capello next week to discuss his England contract. Capello, it is believed, has been placed at the top of Inter Milan's list to replace Jose Mourinho. However, the English FA are sure to try to keep their man, knowing Capello was about to rip a clause out of his contract that would have ended any chance of him walking away before Euro 2012.
That move was halted by the abrupt departure of Lord Triesman, so Horne, and Sir David Richards, the professional game representative, will meet Capello at some point before the World Cup to confirm they want the Italian to remain in the job. * Agencies