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By ESPN Staff

Wilkins backing Becks to mount a rescue mission

Former England player Ray Wilkins believes David Beckham's big-game temperament will rescue the nation's fading Euro 2008 hopes.

Wilkins claims Beckham must be selected for next Wednesday's clash with Croatia if England still have a chance of qualifying for Austria and Switzerland.

Steve McClaren's side will be thrown a lifeline should Russia fail to beat Israel on Saturday, leaving the Wembley showdown against the Croats as the pivotal contest.

The expectation will be enormous and Wilkins believes Beckham's proven track record in pressure-cooker situations makes him an automatic selection.

Six years ago, the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder hit a last-gasp free-kick to secure a 2-2 draw with Greece that booked England's World Cup place, and Wilkins maintains his experience could prove decisive once again.

'If he's fit I'd play David because he gives us outstanding quality,' said Wilkins.

'Young players have plenty to offer but when it comes to the nitty-gritty games like the Croatia match - and please God I hope we're still in it - then you need some know-how.

'Trust me, when we play the Croats we are going to need a bit of know-how.

'He's as important to England as Steven Gerrard or Michael Owen. We need to have him around. He can make sure the ball is put exactly where it needs to be.

'It's been forgotten what he did against Greece - it was forgotten too quickly.

'Before the free-kick that won the game, he took eight others and I don't think he hit the target. But he had the bottle to stand up and take the last one, which flew into the net.

'That match showed he's a man who will rise to the occasion and, absolutely, he could do that against Croatia.'

Injury has limited Beckham to just eight appearances for the Galaxy and his participation in a charity match earlier this month has done little to ease concerns over his match fitness

But Wilkins, speaking at a event organised by England sponsors Nationwide, believes the 32-year-old has the wit to overcome any lack in sharpness.

'Know-how comes into the fitness side of it because the older you are, the more you know where to be at any given time. Experience teaches you that,' he said.

'David's fitness levels are magnificent. People say he's too old but the best two players in the last World Cup were Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane.

'They were 33 and 34 respectively and their workload over the last couple of years of their career was immense.'

Beckham will win his 98th cap if he plays against Austria in Vienna tomorrow night and Wilkins insists the former Manchester United star must not be denied his century of appearances.

'People say `why should he get 100 caps'?' said the former England skipper, whose own international career spanned a decade.

'Well I'd give him 100 caps by picking him in every squad and even putting him on for 10 minutes to make sure he gets them.

'What he's done for England has been absolutely immense - David's an icon across the world.

'He's filling stadiums in the States with people who don't know what football is about and who are watching him play for just 15 minutes.

'He's an ambassador for England and has done a remarkable job.'