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The last chance saloon

England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson has always insisted that plenty of time still remains for players to force their way into his final 23-man party for Euro 2004, but in reality any hopeful who has not received a call from the Swede by the weekend can begin to plan their summer holidays.

Eriksson already knows 95 per cent of the playing staff he will take to this summer's championships and on Saturday evening he will announce his squad for next week's friendly in Sweden, the final international before he names his provisional party for Euro 2004 on May 17.

Outsiders such as Alan Smith, Scott Parker and Jermain Defoe will be watching Eriksson's announcement with special interest on Saturday night and there are still a couple of other names who could yet emerge as late contenders.

Celtic's Alan Thompson has been teased with the carrot of an international cap since September last year and is yet to get a call. Now Shaun Wright-Phillips would appear to be flavour of the month after an impressive season at lacklustre Manchester City.

A plethora of Soccernet users fired off emails after Wright-Phillips was omitted from 'The Next Generation' of England's Under21 stars. Although, in truth, the 22-year-old is strictly a member of the previous batch of U21s and he is now faced with the task of breaking into the senior team.

The Londoner's club boss, and former England manager, Kevin Keegan certainly thinks Wright-Phillips is capable of cutting it at international level and was quick to make that assertion after the winger was overlooked for last month's friendly in Portugal.

Keegan should be wary, other managers who have tipped their players for England in recent times have found themselves in sticky situations. Celtic coach Martin O'Neil insisted that Thompson was a must for England's troubled left and has now, presumably, been left to motivate the midfielder after a series of international snubs.

Conversely, when Charlton manager Alan Curbishley tipped his tireless midfielder Scott Parker for England Eriksson selected the 23-year-old and Chelsea promptly swooped to secure his signature in an acrimonious £10million transfer.

Wright-Phillips caught England assistant Tord Grip's eye with a goal-scoring performance against Liverpool in early February and although the Swede had been at Anfield to asses Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen's performances, the speedy midfielder was singled out by Eriksson's right-hand man.

The 5'6" former striker followed that up by bamboozling England left-back Wayne Bridge as struggling City lost 1-0 to Chelsea, and City's poor form could be detrimental to Wright-Phillips' chances of an England call.

Following Bridge's contest with the youngster the Chelsea full-back admitted that Wright-Phillips' combination of pace and dribbling ability made him the most difficult opponent he had faced this season.

The right-sided midfielder quickly earned more plaudits with a solo strike to seal the 4-1 victory over arch-rivals Manchester United at Eastlands, having also scored City's only goal in the reverse fixture early in the season. Keegan was so impressed by his young charge that he declared that Wright-Phillips' ability, courage and 'big-heart' would take him a long way.

His critics would point to the fact that while a low centre of gravity and blistering pace allow Wright-Phillips to gain a yard on virtually any full-back, his final ball into the box fails to compare with the build-up. But at Elland Road last Monday Eriksson witnessed other faculties of Wright-Phillips' game. He started the match on the left-flank and then occupied a role behind the two strikers as City chased the game late on.

Wright-Phillips: Could start on left.
Wright-Phillips: Could start on left.

Running at the centre-backs from deep he caused the Leeds defence numerous problems as City dominated, and despite his attacking duties was on hand to make a goal saving tackle at the death. Unfortunately, despite the midfielder's industry, he was on the losing side once again.

At 22-years-old, and with his club fighting relegation, the chances are that Wright-Phillips is a name for the future rather than this summer, but he has clearly impressed Eriksson with his form this season and is expected to emulate stepfather Ian Wright in becoming a senior international.

At present Wright-Phillips has England captain David Beckham and Newcastle midfielder Kieron Dyer to contest with for a place on the right wing and although he is undoubtedly talented, and tipped by Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp to win the PFA Young Player of the Year Award, he is unlikely to get ahead of that duo before this summer's tournament - especially with the glut of midfield talent available to Eriksson.

However, with Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz warning that Beckham faces burn-out if he plays the full 90 minutes in Gothenburg, and Eriksson's occasional penchant for a surprise inclusion in his squad, Wright-Phillips could yet get an unexpected run out at the Ullevi Stadium.

If either he, Thompson, or any other uncapped hopefuls fail to make this squad then its fair to say they will only be in Portugal on holiday this summer.

  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.