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Rickie needs goals to go to Rio
7:00am Thursday 17th October 2013 in Football
Rickie Lambert is one of a number of England players who know they cannot afford a dip in their club form if they are to make the plane to Brazil.
England’s guarantee of a spot in the World Cup finals has given extra motivation to a host of top Premier League stars who could make the dream trip to South America next summer. Lambert is very much among them.
However, he will also be well aware that with potentially just three friendly games before Roy Hodgson names his 23-man squad for the tournament, the intervening seven months are going to be all about club form to bag a place.
Lambert has done about as much as he could up until now.
Since forcing his way into Hodgson’s plans he has scored two goals in three appearances, but the fitness and form of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge has forced him into the role of unused sub for the last two outings.
He has at least established himself as an important squad member, and that means he remains in pole position.
Looking at Hodgson’s options, and assessing Lambert’s chances, the first thing to say is that whether the England boss takes four or five strikers will be a vital factor.
Despite Danny Welbeck being used out wide at times, he is still regarded as one of the striking options and he, Rooney and Sturridge are shoe-ins to go so long as they are fit.
After that, it is hard to imagine anyone other than Lambert, Jermaine Defoe and Andy Carroll making the plane.
That is, in many ways, good news for Lambert because whether it is two from three or one from three, Hodgson is likely to take a big target man with him.
Hodgson has always liked having that kind of player at his disposal and it’s hard to imagine England going to a World Cup without the change-up option of being able to go direct. In fact, you might say it would be almost negligent to do such a thing.
Therefore, if you want to boil it down, it is more likely than not to all come down to whether Hodgson picks Lambert or Carroll.
Most pundits have a nagging feeling that Hodgson prefers Carroll.
Saints fans, in particular, will certainly consider that unfair given their respective records, especially as Lambert has now proved himself at Premier League level, but it might just be the way it is.
It will come down to club form.
Lambert needs to keep leading the line for Saints and have another strong season to make an irresistible case for selection.
He cannot rest on what he has achieved. Instead, he needs to get to the point where it would be hugely controversial if Hodgson did NOT take him.
He pretty much only seemed to get into the England squad on that basis in the first place.
A lot will also depend on the fitness of Carroll.
The West Ham man hasn’t played a single minute of competitive football this season due to injury, and is not tipped for a return before next month at the earliest.
Whether he can come back and put together six months of fitness and form might decide his fate, and Lambert’s with it.
One thing is for sure, it’s good news for Saints fans who will hope to see Lambert proving his case in Saints colours every week between now and that announcement.
The hard work is done. Now for the tricky bit.
Roy Hodgson has delivered on his promise to steer England to the World Cup finals.
Now he has seven months, and as few as just three games, to decide on his 23-man squad.
Here, the Daily Echo looks as the men who will make it, those who are sweating on their spot and those who can book their holidays.
GOALKEEPERS Joe Hart is a certainty, despite his slump in form. Hodgson took the trouble to talk Ben Foster out of international retirement, so, fitness permitting, it would be bizarre not to take him. The final spot rests between John Ruddy and Fraser Forster. The Norwich man might just edge it.
ON THE PLANE: Joe Hart, Ben Foster.
SWEATING ON IT: John Ruddy, Fraser Forster.
BOOK YOUR HOLIDAYS: Scott Carson.
DEFENDERS Hodgson appears to have settled on not only his top four, but his best eight, which, thanks to the presence of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, offers the flexibility required in any squad. The bigger question is whether Leighton Baines has now ousted Ashley Cole as first choice left-back.
ON THE PLANE: Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines.
SWEATING ON IT: Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Joleon Lescott.
BOOK YOUR HOLIDAYS: Kieran Gibbs, Ryan Bertrand, Steven Caulker.
MIDFIELD Tough one this, especially in the wider areas, where form between now and May will be the determining factor. It would be harsh to leave Andros Townsend out, given his form in England’s last two qualifiers. But, if he goes, that could be the end of ex-Saint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hopes.
Centrally, it looks fairly straightforward, although given three of Hodgson's players are well into their 30s and Jack Wilshere’s fitness record is poor, this may also be the area England are more likely to lose someone.
ON THE PLANE: Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Tom Cleverley.
SWEATING ON IT: Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andros Townsend, Ashley Young, Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Zaha, Ross Barkley, Ravel Morrison.
BOOK YOUR HOLIDAYS: Stewart Downing, Aaron Lennon, Jonjo Shelvey, Leon Osman, Scott Parker.
STRIKERS Hodgson may opt to give himself an additional forward by losing a man elsewhere. Even so, with three places booked, the final cut is going to be intriguing.
ON THE PLANE: Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge.
SWEATING ON IT: Jermain Defoe, Rickie Lambert, Andy Carroll.
BOOK YOUR HOLIDAYS: Darren Bent.
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