DARREN Bent faces an anxious 24-hour wait before finding out tomorrow whether his performance in England’s stuttering 2-1 win over Japan was enough to earn him a World Cup place.
The Sunderland hitman made his third start for his country in yesterday’s final World Cup warm-up game in Austria, playing for 45 minutes before making way for Jamie Carragher as boss Fabio Capello made five substitutions at half-time.
Bent has yet to score in his six England appearances and, after going close with a header yesterday, will wonder whether he did enough in his final audition to warrant a place in the squad for the World Cup.
The 26-year-old was one of 30 players in Capello’s preliminary World Cup squad, but that group must be whittled down to a 23-man squad ahead of next month’s tournament.
That final squad must be announced tomorrow and, after yesterday’s game in Graz, Capello says he has made his mind up who will be going to South Africa with the only remaining doubt being over the fitness of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.
Capello said: “I know the 22 players who are in mind. They are the same 22 who I decided on last week. Nothing has changed.
“We have to wait for Gareth Barry.
“We will decide on him after we have had the final check to see how long it will be before he can train with us.
“We have to know everything about this situation, but I am not disappointed my mind is still the same.”
Capello was giving no clues, however.
He added: “There will be no decision before June 1.
“I know the 23 [assuming Barry is fit] – but you will have to wait.”
The exact composition of his squad is still unknown, with the uncertainty centering on whether it will include five strikers or four.
Most pundits expect the latter and, with Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and the Spurs duo of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe all near-certain to be in the 23, that would leave Bent competing with Aston Villa’s Emile Heskey for the final place.
Bent scored 25 goals and was an ever-present in the league for the Black Cats last season, while Heskey scored just five goals and started only two games in the last two months for Villa.
However, Heskey’s biggest asset is not his goalscoring but his physical presence and ability to forge and effective partnership with Rooney, which will no doubt have a heavy bearing on Capello’s decision. The Italian has already said he will inform the seven unlucky players by telephone tomorrow they have missed out, before his final squad is publicly announced.
That means Bent will be keeping his fingers crossed his phone does not ring tomorrow.
England won despite an unconvincing display which saw them fall behind to Makoto Tanaka’s seventh-minute goal and then Frank Lampard miss a penalty early the second half.
Tanaka put through his own net in the 72nd minute and Yuki Nakazawa did the same 11 minutes later to hand England victory and send them off to South Africa on a winning note. Capello said: “I was happy with the second half performance.
“I think we played better, faster, we found space. In the first half we played too slow, it was easy for Japan to defend.
“It was an interesting game for me, I saw a lot of players I did not know before and I learned more.
“In the first half I saw the spirit of the team because in every tackle they wanted to win the ball. This is an important quality in the team.”
Although Capello is keeping the exact make-up of his squad secret, there are two players who look almost certain not to make the plane to South Africa.
Neither Northallerton-biorn centre-back Michael Dawson nor former Newcastle midfielder Scott Parker had played a minute for Capello during the Italian’s two-and-a-half-year reign as England coach prior to the two-week Austrian training camp.
As they still have not been involved, they can book their summer holidays with a large degree of confidence.
Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock is also highly unlikely to displace Leighton Baines as second-choice at left-back.
Two from Sunderland-born former Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson, his Manchester City team-mate Shaun Wright-Phillips and Chelsea’s Joe Cole look set to miss out with only one place apparently open to them.
Listening to Capello, Cole’s second-half cameo, when he shone more than Wright-Phillips, might have done the job.
Capello added: “I know Joe Cole very well. He is in a good moment.
“He is fresh because he did not play a lot of games.Cole is good. He played very well in the second half.”
However, even though Capello knows his squad, there is a conundrum looming ahead of that opening match against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.
As Barry seems certain not to be fit in time, Frank Lampard needs a central midfield partner. On the evidence of the Mexico game last week, and yesterday’s scrappy win, Steven Gerrard would be the best choice given his move into central midfield brought out an improved England on both occasions.
However, that would put Capello in the same situation which plagued Sven-Göran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, namely trying to get the most from Lampard and Gerrard when they are operating in tandem.
Capello added: “We played very well in the second half because the quality of these players is really high.
“I don’t know if I will start Lampard and Gerrard together.
“I have to speak with the players and decide their position.
“I was happy about Gerrard’s performance against Mexico and today it was the same.”
Lampard has already been assured he will remain as penalty taker, despite missing from the spot yesterday when England were trailing.
It was his second successive failure from 12 yards, having also failed for Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Yet Capello does not seem too concerned. He said: “ This was more important as it was 1-0 to them, but anyone can miss a penalty. I will keep Frank Lampard as penalty taker.”