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Dec 6, 2009

Tottenham stars on trial

England manager Fabio Capello will be glued to Tottenham Hotspur's extraordinary up-and-down quest for a coveted Champions League spot as so many of the North London club's players are on trial for a World Cup place.

• Everton 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur

The auditions are already under way after the 2010 Finals draw in Cape Town focused attention on who will be in Capello's final shake down, with Aaron Lennon top of the class for his performance at Goodison Park.

Lennon is adding a degree of accuracy and potency to his crossing, which has been so lacking in his game, and he made the opening goal for Jermain Defoe on Sunday.

With so much competition on the right flank, Lennon's re-emergence as a genuine contender will place even more question marks over whether David Beckham will make the squad.

If Lennon continues to find the solution to his final ball, while his pace is awesome and will frighten any World Cup team, then Beckham's chances are receding as Arsenal's Theo Walcott, Manchester City's Shaun Wright Phillips are also contenders.

Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone is an interesting midfield alternative for Capello, as he is big and strong, but has a quality of pass that Glenn Hoddle - the TV pundit for Spurs' trip to Everton - would appreciate, but his lack of pace makes him an outsider in a department that offers Capello an abundance of choice.

Striker Peter Crouch did himself few favours by missing a gilt-edged chance that would have put Spurs three-up and pocketing the points, instead, not so long afterwards, Everton mounted their spirited fight back.

Crouch is borderline for the plane to South Africa but much will depend on how Carlton Cole returns from his injury lay-off, whether the centre-forward is sold off by West Ham in the January transfer and makes a big impact with a bigger club.

Captain Michael Dawson scored from a diving header from a corner to put Spurs two-up and in such a commanding position it didn't seem likely they would fail. Although he is not currently in favour, I would rate him as good as England's Matthew Upson, and he could make a late run into the squad with Capello suffering so many problems at centre half with Rio Ferdinand injured at the moment.

Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe grabbed five goals against Wigan Atheltic in that nine-goal rout and following his effort against Everton has now scored 12 league goals for the season. The striker's goal tally makes him a certainty for a role as Capello's impact substitute, even though he missed the injury time penalty that would have given Rednapp's team the winner and put them above Arsenal in third spot.

Instead Spurs cling to fourth place, but, at least we can all console ourselves with the knowledge that Defoe won't be taking many penalties for England, if indeed he will be taking many more for Spurs.

Robbie Keane is the usual penalty taker, but he was stuck on the bench, although his last spot kick against Tim Howard was saved by the Everton goalkeeper.

For now the American keeper managed his personal one-upmanship against England's Defoe, but if he is ever facing a penalty in the opening World Cup tie, it will be from Frank Lampard - then again, he missed his penalty as Chelsea crashed to Manchester City!

Penalties have always been England's nemesis in major tournaments, and Capello will indeed be a miracle worker if he can find the magic formula for England to win a penalty shoot out.

For Spurs, it was a penalty nightmare with Defoe missing his big chance, after Spurs threw away a two-goal lead. As Hoddle said, the time it took for Defoe to take it, played on his mind, and clearly penalties will play on the England team's mind when the tournament is under way.

In addition, Saha imparted information to Howard that Defoe prefers to hit them hard through the middle, and maybe Capello will arm his players with computer data on the opposition keepers to give his players more of an edge in any penalty shoot out.

As for the more parochial issue of Spurs fighting at the top, and Everton at the bottom, this was a wasted opportunity for Redknapp's team, but a wonderful fight back from David Moyes' side under the circumstances of so many injuries.

Redknapp felt his side were in complete control at two-up and he was right, there seemed no way back and Crouch should have taken his chance. Crouch cannot afford too many near misses like that. His place with Spurs will now be threatened with Keane eager to return.

But it is results and games like this one that makes the Premier League so entertaining, another four-goal thriller, but for Spurs their nerves will be on edge in that race for fourth place. It's hard to believe that the last club to break into the exclusive Top Four 'club' was indeed Everton!

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