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Bench Becks for Croatia

Israel handed England a serious lifeline over the weekend by beating Russia, 2-1. Qualification for the Euro 2008 Championships is now firmly in England's hands. A win or a draw against Croatia, which has already qualified, would do the trick.

However, England's good fortune follows a dismal performance against Austria on Friday. The meaningless friendly was an opportunity for Coach Steve McClaren to get a first look at Aston Villa's Ashley Young and assess the fitness of David Beckham, among other things. Despite setting up the only goal of the game, Beck was one of many indifferent performers against an Austrian team that's so bad, it's own supporters are calling for it to withdraw from the Euro 2008 finals. Friday's limp 1-0 victory was hardly good preparation for Wednesday's crucial finale against Croatia, a team that will be much, much harder to break down.

The Times' Martin Samuel feels that Beckham should not start. He hasn't started a competitive match since August, nor has he played at a high enough level (in Samuel's opinion) to be useful to England as anything other than an impact player from the substitute's bench. If England trails Croatia with 20 minutes to go, Becks would be a good choice to bring on for his dead-ball delivery. Other than that, Samuel says that Shaun Wright-Philips would be a more explosive option down the right.

Read the whole story at Times Online »

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