Beckham returns for final qualifier

Updated: 11 November 2007 16:13 IST

England coach Steve McClaren is hoping David Beckham's experience - and a little help from Israel - can help lead his team to the European Championship.

Yarm, England:

England coach Steve McClaren is hoping David Beckham's experience - and a little help from Israel - can help lead his team to the European Championship.

He'll have to do without star striker Wayne Rooney, who injured his ankle in training with Manchester United on Friday and was ruled out for four weeks.

News of Rooney's injury reached McClaren shortly after he announced what could be his last squad, as he fights for his future and England's hopes of qualifying for next year's championship.

"It's hugely disappointing for us and him, given the form he's been in and the impact he's made in the last few games," McClaren said of Rooney's latest blow.

"It's a blow to deal with but we've dealt with it before and we'll deal with it again," he added.

McClaren will decide over the weekend whether to call up a replacement.

Despite only just returning from a long injury layoff himself, Beckham was included in the squad to play Austria in a friendly on November 16 and the potentially decisive Euro qualifier with Croatia five days later.

"He is a big-game player," McClaren said. "He is an experienced player who has never let England down."

England will also be lacking experience in defense, with captain John Terry ruled out through injuries and Rio Ferdinand, another first-choice center back, suspended.

But that final Group E match against Croatia at Wembley on November 21 could be meaningless unless Russia fails to win in Israel five days earlier, or somehow drops point to Andorra in the last game.

"We've got to be so positive," McClaren said. "The disappointment is that it's out of our hands, that's the big regret. But we've got to hope that Israel can get a result against Russia.

"I thought all along the Croatia game at Wembley will be the decider and I still believe that."

Just 15 months into the job, McClaren's hopes of keeping his post will be bleak if England fails to qualify, and misses its first major tournament since the 1994 World Cup.

Beckham was England captain under former coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, but was dropped by McClaren when he took over after last year's World Cup.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder was brought back by Eriksson's former assistant in May after the qualifying campaign got off to a stuttering start.

However, Beckham missed the wins against Israel and Russia at Wembley in September and England's 2-1 defeat in Russia last month because of a sprained right knee.

"The first six or seven months were struggling to find our confidence and rhythm and we took some hits," McClaren said. "The biggest hit we took was Macedonia - that was two points dropped at home."

An unconvincing 3-0 victory over Andorra in March, when the teams were level at halftime and England's players and coach were jeered, was the first win since September 2006.

The situation improved with four more 3-0 victories before the defeat in Russia.

"We have come together as a team," McClaren said. "Our attitude has been good. Our performances have been good."

Before the pivotal Israel-Russia game, England plays a friendly in Austria next Friday, when Beckham will be hoping to add to his 97 caps.

The five-tournament veteran is desperate to bring his total to 100, but looks likely to finish with 99 if England fails to qualify for Euro 2008.

"When we are missing the likes of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry we need as many big-game and experience players as possible," McClaren told reporters near his home in northeast England.

"The only thing (Beckham) lacks is match practice. He is in the squad. That does not guarantee him a place in the team or on the bench."

Midfielder Owen Hargreaves is also back after being ruled out for two months with knee and thigh injuries. Terry's deputy, Steven Gerrard, will likely take up the captaincy.

McClaren was told of Rooney's injury as he finished a lunch with reporters at a restaurant near his home in Yarm, in northeast England - the same venue where he learned of an injury to Frank Lampard before September's qualifiers.

Rooney has been plagued by injuries, much to England's detriment.

At Euro 2004, an 18-year-old Rooney made his name on the world stage by scoring four goals in three games, only to break his left foot during the quarterfinal defeat to Portugal.

On the eve of the 2006 World Cup, Rooney broke his right foot before rushing back into action to be sent off in another quarterfinal defeat to Portugal.

He fractured his left foot in United's first match this season and missed England's wins in September.

Meanwhile, McClaren's assistant, Terry Venables, warned the Football Association on Friday not to rush into a "knee-jerk reaction" if England failed to advance to next year's tournament in Switzerland and Austria.

"They must make sure they come to a decision for the right reasons, not just because it seems right at one particular moment," said Venables, who coached England to the Euro 96 semifinals.

Topics : Football
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