Sunderland forward Darren Bent is set to make his first start for the Three Lions under Fabio Capello, as England take on Brazil in a prestige friendly in Qatar this afternoon. But what does the Black Cat have to do to book a seat on the plane to South Africa next summer?
Capello, speaking yesterday, hinted that it would be Bent that started against Brazil.
“I have not totally decided but it is 60 percent for Bent and 40 percent for Defoe to start tomorrow,” he said.
“I know Defoe and Peter Crouch very well. I need to know more about Bent.”
“I like his pace. He is quick, he attacks the space. His movement without the ball is excellent and his ability in front of goal is very good. I want to see this tomorrow.”
So fans can expect Bent to feature for a significant part of the match, whether that is from the starting line-up, or coming off the bench—we are none the wiser, though all indications are that Bent will start the game.
Assuming he does, what does Bent need to achieve in the game to convince the England manager of his worth?
Scoring would help.
Bent has made four appearances for the senior national side since his debut against Uruguay in March 2006 and has failed to register on the score sheet.
His record both in the Premier League and at Under-21 level suggests he is capable. Bent scored nine goals in 14 appearances for the England U21’s and has scored eight goals in 12 games for Sunderland this season. He was also Tottenham Hotspur’s top scorer last season and was prolific for an average Charlton Athletic side.
So Bent definitely has the potential to succeed on the international stage, but it will be very difficult for Bent to force his way into Capello’s plans.
Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey are clearly the preferred partnership for the Three Lions at the moment. Heskey’s place in the starting line-up could be in jeopardy if he continues to struggle for game time at Aston Villa, but his performances in qualifying have all but secured his spot in the squad for the World Cup.
England are simply a better side with Heskey in the team. That said, you wouldn’t put it past Capello to be ruthless come summer if Heskey is still in the same predicament at club level.
In truth, it is Carlton Cole and Peter Crouch that are likely to be vying for that place in the squad. Bent is more of a goal poacher than a link-up man. It’ll be Rooney, Heskey, one from Crouch and Cole, and the final spot will go to a sharp shooter.
This puts Bent in direct competition with Gabriel Agbonlahor, and more prominently with Jermaine Defoe.
Both London-born strikers have impressive records at club-level , with Defoe scoring nine goals in 18 appearances since returning to Spurs in January. The current resident of White Hart Lane currently has the edge over Bent as he has put in some impressive performances for the Three Lions under Capello.
Defoe came off the bench to score both of England’s goals against Holland and won the man of the match award in the process, he also scored two goals in three minutes against Andorra in a World Cup qualifier.
That said, his record at international record isn’t great, Defoe has only scored 11 times in 37 appearances for England. Compare this to someone like Michael Owen who has scored 40 goals in 89 appearances. If you extended this form across the same amount of appearances it would leave Defoe with only 26 goals.
So despite Defoe’s impressive form in recent times for England there is still a chance for Bent to prove his worth. You get the feeling this game will be Bent’s only real chance to do so, as there won’t be many England fixtures between now and summer.
A criticism of Bent is that he goes missing in big games and doesn’t sustain a good run of form for long enough. Bent will have to answer both of those points if he is to make the cut next summer.
It may seem harsh, but Bent needs to score against Brazil today to have any real chance of participating in the World Cup. Even if he does so, he’ll then have to prove the doubters wrong and continue his goal scoring form across an entire Premier League campaign.
It’ll be tough, but if Bent does both these things then nobody can deny he’ll be more than worthy of a trip to South Africa in 2010.