"Crouch is the best player I can put on there," is all England boss Fabio Capello had to say when questioned by the media regarding Peter Crouch's involvement prior to the match against the Ukraine tonight.
Certainly not a ringing endorsement by any means for the lanky 6'7" striker, was it?
Crouch—yet to start a match since Capello came in as head of the England squad—received the nod to start in tonight's match against the Ukraine at Wembley following injuries to fellow frontmen Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole.
And when Heskey and Cole were forced off in the match against Slovakia at the weekend, it's possible Capello still didn't have the faith in Crouch to start the match, drafting in Tottenham Hotspur's Darren Bent.
Bent, too, fell to injury. It seemed fate was forcing Don Fabio's hand to start the lanky Portsmouth striker.
But why was it such a struggle?
I think that Crouch has received a completely unfair amount of criticism over the past few weeks considering how excellent his goalscoring record has been.
Whether it was in his spells at Liverpool, Southampton, Portsmouth (both of them), or with the national side, Crouch has consistently found the back of the net when called upon.
Crouch has now found the back of the net on fifteen occasions for the England side in only 33 appearances, a record that few in the squad could claim to even come close to.
When addressing the issue of a call-up for Newcastle striker Michael Owen, however, Capello made his point clear:
"I have to choose the players to play against Ukraine, not against history," Capello said.
Well, Crouch is back on form and certainly didn't deserve much of the criticism he received in the build-up to today's match.
Although having gone on a lengthy dry spell for his club Portsmouth, Crouch has now found the back of the net three times in the last two matches for the Premier League strugglers.
Then, there were those in the media getting on the forward's back as well, with Guardian columnist Kevin McCarra questioning Crouch's ability to play as a target-man alongside an in-form Wayne Rooney?
Absolute rubbish. I truly don't know how much more the big man has to do before he can silence the boo boys. What I do know, however, is that in a team with the quality that England have, a striker with the ability of Crouch can thrive—if given the opportunity.
And contrary to Mr. McCarra's opinion, I believe Crouch can very easily play partner to an in-form Wayne Rooney. More importantly, however, is my belief that Crouch can fill the role better than Emile Heskey when Rooney's isn't in-form.
As if it were scripted tonight, it was Peter Crouch who popped up in the 29th minute to open the scoring in the match. Crouch—again quieting the naysayers who question is agility and dexterity—excellently manipulated his lanky body to fire in England's first goal.
It would have only been better had he gotten the winner.
Even though I know Crouch's performance tonight won't have silenced all of his critics (who will undoubtedly be out again once he is overlooked again in the future), Crouch continues to prove that he is a world-class forward.
Hopefully, it won't take injuries to another 17 strikers ahead of him in the international pecking order for everyone to realize that.