Who should partner Rooney in South Africa?

Who on Earth is going to partner Wayne Rooney upfront at the World Cup this summer? In fact, which other forwards are going to join England’s talisman on the plane to South Africa? It’s a difficult one because none of the other candidates are playing overly well at the moment. No one else is screaming to Fabio Capello “You can’t leave me out!” And another thing, does the gaffer take four front men or five in his squad?

The stern Italian quite clearly likes to have a big man as an option. This will take the physical burden off Rooney and allow him more freedom to terrorise the opposition with his creative genius. So firstly, let’s take a look at the big men on offer. Emile Heskey has been the most favoured during the Three Lions’ qualifying campaign. We all know what the Aston Villa forward is good at, he can cause havoc with his tireless running, colossal strength and ability to bring others into play, but to defeat the best teams in June and hopefully July, goals are going to be required. And unfortunately, Heskey doesn’t have goal-getting in his locker. Of course, it could be argued that his excellent hold-up play will provide plenty of opportunities for others.

Moving on to the beanpole that is Peter Crouch, and just the other day I was thinking he could be expendable because his current form for Tottenham leaves a lot to be desired. But then up he pops with two goals against Egypt last night to take his England tally to 20 goals in 37 games – a quite brilliant ratio that any striker would be proud of. Some say that he only scores against the so called weaker teams, but this could prove vital at the World Cup as England often struggle to break organised, but limited, sides down and there will be plenty of those to overcome in the early stages of the tournament. Crouchy just loves scoring against them.

Then there is Carlton Cole to complete the target men potentials. The West Ham man is a good player and can cause defenders real problems, but has he done enough to make his way past Heskey – who is very experienced with 57 caps – and Crouch? I’m not so sure. Capello obviously really rates him and has given Cole all seven of his senior caps so he has a chance but will have to finish his season with the Hammers in fine fashion.

Despite the Italian boss’ preference for a ‘little and large’ combination, he went with Jermain Defoe alongside Rooney in his starting line up last night. Defoe will feel pretty confident of his place in the squad after his prolific season but he has not been hitting the net quite as regularly in the past couple of months and will want to step it up again to the levels he was hitting earlier in the year if he is to force his way into the starting line up. Can he work alongside England’s main man? Gary Linekar recently said he believes the diminutive Spurs striker should be given a chance in the upcoming friendlies and last night Capello agreed with the Match of the Day presenter. With the out of favour Michael Owen’s chances seemingly getting thinner and thinner with each passing squad, especially after his troublesome hamstring went again in the League Cup final last weekend, Defoe looks to have nailed down the ‘fox in the box’ position.

With the friendlies against Japan and Mexico announced it really is the start of the big countdown to the match against the USA on June 12. Who will partner Rooney is anyone’s guess – Capello will be hoping that at least one candidate takes the bull by the horns and leaves him in no doubt. It’s going to be a big three months.