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Crunch time for Saints quartet in world cup selection race
It’s now or never.
The four Saints stars on the fringes of Roy Hodgson’s plans for Brazil will know they are entering a vital week for their hopes of making the World Cup.
Firstly, they need to be named by Hodgson tomorrow in the England squad for the friendly against Denmark a week today. If they don’t make it into what is likely to be a large and experimental squad, then there is little hope.
Then they have to impress in training and the game to press their claims.
If they can do it right now then they have a shot of making it.
If not, it is likely to slip away.
At this moment in time, Lallana feels like he has the best chance of Brazil.
The midfielder has been in fine form all season, and has stayed largely injury free.
Lallana was handed the chance to impress last time out for England and duly did against both Chile and Germany, which only enhanced his standing in Hodgson’s eyes.
As his excellent club form has continued for Saints, it is almost impossible to imagine he won’t get a chance against Denmark.
You wouldn’t go so far as to say that Lallana is a shoe-in for Brazil, but he is making a very compelling case.
Hodgson will want a mixture of pace and trickery in the attacking midfield positions.
While the likes of former Saints star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has pace to burn, Lallana offers something very different.
He brings to the table the ability to unlock a defence in a moment, and can score goals too.
When you look around the Premier League, there are not many players who can bring the unique style he does, and it’s hard to even think of a direct English rival.
Another good showing for England, and a decent end to the season for Saints, could well see him on the plane.
We are likely to get a very real insight into Lambert’s chances when we see Hodgson’s squad for Denmark.
As good as Lambert has been for club and country, there has always been this nagging doubt that the England manager doesn’t fancy him too much.
Whether it is fair or not, it has always seemed as if Hodgson has included Lambert because he felt he had to, rather than he genuinely wanted to.
The fact that Lambert hit the goal trail immediately for England and then spent time warming the bench, despite injuries to other strikers, certainly seemed to back up that theory.
However, all is not lost.
Hodgson is sure to want to take a big, physical striker who can play as a target man with him to Brazil.
Though it may not necessarily be a player he always chooses to start with, it is an option off the bench – either if England are chasing the game and want to go direct, or are defending the lead and want the ball held up.
Lambert has already proven he can do it at domestic and international level, but is in a straight shootout with Andy Carroll for that role.
Saints fans are incredulous when it is suggested that Carroll might get the nod ahead of Lambert, but there does feel a very real danger that it could happen.
Hodgson just leaves the impression that he prefers the West Ham man.
Carroll has made an injury comeback, albeit now punctuated by suspension, but hasn’t had the consistent season you would expect of somebody coming up on the rails to challenge for a World Cup place.
As all the World Cup hopefuls will know, unless there is a desperate run of injuries or a remarkable run of form, with Hodgson set to name an experimental squad and rest a few Brazil certainties, if you are an outside chance type player and don’t make the Denmark squad then your chances are all but over.
Therefore, all eyes will be on whether Hodgson names Carroll tomorrow.
If he does, it’s the clearest indication yet that Lambert is up against it.
Should Hodgson pick the West Ham man on the first occasion in recent games he has been available, and without much form behind him to speak of, it will underline how much he wants him there.
All Lambert can do is make an irresistible case for selection and hope that is enough.
Everybody connected with Saints would say it certainly should be, but that nagging doubt remains.
Jay Rodriguez probably falls into the category of one with a slim hope of making Brazil.
Credit to him, his tough England debut against Chile hasn’t held back his club form, which is a credit to not only his game but his strength of character.
The stick Rodriguez got after what was a disappointing performance all-round from England was more than a little harsh, but he has bounced back.
He has netted eight times in his last 19 league and cup outings for Saints.
If you were being honest, though, you would have to say he is up against it.
In that position of a direct running attacking player from deep, there is a lot of competition in the England ranks.
Rodriguez’s Premier League form means he deserves to up there in consideration, but there are set to be several players in that role who are disappointed.
It would be a surprise were Rodriguez not in this more experimental squad, because he is surely seen as one for the future for England.
To make the plan for Brazil, though, he needs to get the chance to win a second England cap and to really shine.
Shaw, pictured above right, is a player who has been coming up on the rails.
There is no doubt that, after the World Cup, he is seen as the England left back for the next decade.
A few months ago you would probably have thought that this World Cup would probably come a little bit too soon, but now he is a live outsider.
Leighton Baines is probably going to be the first choice England left back for the World Cup, but the back-up spot is up for grabs.
Ashley Cole has slipped from first choice to now fighting Shaw for the second string role.
Cole’s vast experience obviously counts in his favour when compared with Shaw, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Saints youngster is playing in the top flight every week, whereas Cole is not.
Cole has only appeared in one Premier League game for Chelsea since the 3-0 New Year’s Day win at St Mary’s.
There have been rumours that Cole and Shaw will both be in Hodgson’s England squad tomorrow. That sets up the fascinating possibility of another head-to-head style battle, the likes of which we might see with Lambert and Carroll.
Much could depend on how Shaw reacts to the pressures and demands of international football.
Though there is no doubt he is already good enough to play at that level given his club form, there are unique situations to be dealt with at international level which Shaw has yet to be fully exposed to.
If he were to come in and easily slot into the England set-up next week, then his case looks even better.
Whatever happens, all four Saints hopefuls know just how vital the next week will be.