Defoe makes case for England start
Fabio Capello gave the briefest insight into how he will resolve the dilemma that confronts him before England attempt to stamp their passport to South Africa.
England will secure their place in next summer's World Cup after an almost flawless qualifying campaign if they beat Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday night.
Capello, the arch-pragmatist and meticulous planner, will not have been lulled into a false sense of security by England's untroubled progress and a laboured win over Slovenia only served as a timely reminder of questions still unanswered.
Heskey offers Capello a range of options, namely strength, height, physical presence and selfless devotion to the team ethic appreciated by his colleagues. Defoe offers goals.
Defoe was at it again on Saturday. While Heskey bustled, worked hard to assist Wayne Rooney and missed his only presentable chance, Defoe emerged from the bench and dispatched another clinical finish to go with his double against the Netherlands in Amsterdam last month.
And yet, when quizzed about Defoe's contribution, the ever-cautious Capello may just have given the game away when he said: "Always when Defoe plays in second half he scores."
But Heskey's England career has been one long defiance of logic. A succession of England managers (plus highly-respected club managers it should be added) have accepted the seemingly flawed theory that one of their main strikers is not a goal threat in exchange for his worth to the team.
When Heskey scored against Kazakhstan in Almaty in June, it was his first competitive goal for England in seven years - and yet team-mates only just stop short of forming an orderly queue to sing his praises when questions are raised about his effectiveness.
At Liverpool, manager Gerard Houllier often played Heskey ahead of Robbie Fowler on the basis that he brought more out of Michael Owen than a player who, in terms of natural gifts, he simply could not touch. It is a pattern that has been repeated throughout his career.
Heskey has played his part in some of England's best recent victories, but is now not even a regular at Aston Villa and his goal record has always been supremely indifferent. If Defoe does not start for England now he never will because he is on the hottest of hot streaks.
He should, in my view, partner Rooney on Wednesday but Capello's answer hinted at the fact that Defoe is viewed as an impact player as opposed to a starter.
Capello's view will also be shaped by the fact that Heskey's role as a battering ram of sorts, and an outlet that can release pressure on England, helps bring the best out of Rooney. This has to be at the forefront of his thinking and goes pretty much all the way to explaining Heskey's continued presence.
Rooney will carry much of England's hopes in South Africa and Capello is smart enough to know all his attacking plans must revolve around him - but Defoe's current form still makes a compelling case for him to oust Heskey.
Defoe ticks all the boxes. He is in the form of his life at club level, is soaring in confidence and has the very obvious self-belief that he is at home on the international stage.
He is pushing the prospects of a belated England return for Manchester United's summer capture Owen even further into the distance with his current potency.
Capello's occasionally frustrated touchline demeanour also hinted at dissatisfaction in other areas ahead of England's latest meeting with the dangerous Croatians.
England were uncertain in defence, with Liverpool's Glen Johnson providing further proof that he is more at ease attacking the opposition's goal than defending his own. He is not under immediate threat because of a lack of serious alternatives, but his uncertainty will have been noted.
John Terry and Matthew Upson were occasionally caught square by slick Slovenian passing, especially early on, while England's goalkeeping position is a major headache for Capello ahead of next summer.
Capello seems set on Portsmouth's David James, but he is a keeper who will be almost 40 by the time the World Cup starts, has never been a model of consistency and has been suffering from injury recently.
Robert Green and Manchester United's Ben Foster have yet to mount a serious challenge and West Ham's keeper had some uneasy moments on Saturday, particularly when he handled outside his area when collecting a clearance, an offence missed by the officials.
The next 10 months will be an audition for this trio to convince Capello that they are the most reliable last line of defence - and all three have yet to make a convincing case.
Aaron Lennon had just cause to feel satisfied with his contribution after performing with greater vigour and effectiveness that Shaun Wright-Phillips when he replaced the Manchester City winger at the interval.
Wright-Phillips was peripheral at best and Lennon may just have pushed ahead of him for a starting place on Wednesday. Arsenal's Theo Walcott will also come into the equation on the right flank for the World Cup, along with David Beckham of course, when fit.
The other main talking point from a low-key affair was the award of a penalty to England in the first half, when Wayne Rooney fell as he challenged with Slovenia's Bostjan Cesar. As diving is the new national obssession after the Eduardo affair, questions were asked after Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson pointed the spot.
No problem here. Simply a poor decision as opposed to theatrics from Rooney, despite the complaints of Slovenia captain Robert Koren.
Rooney's main contribution was to prove he is quite simply indispensable to England cause - now Capello must decide who partners him as they attempt to apply the finishing touches to World Cup qualification.
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