Emile Heskey insists he never believed his FIFA World Cup™ dreams were at an end. After being a major part of Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad at the 2002 tournament, Heskey did not even make it to Germany four years later. Dumped in the wake of a torrid Euro 2004 campaign, Heskey was consigned to an international exile which lasted more than three years before he was recalled by Steve McClaren following the promptings of Michael Owen.
Now it is Owen on the sidelines and Heskey playing the starring role as England motor serenely on towards South Africa 2010. The 31-year-old even managed his first competitive goal in seven seasons during Saturday's 4-0 defeat of Kazakhstan in Almaty, with the promise of more to come against Andorra on Wednesday. Given what has gone before, Heskey must be feeling pretty pleased with himself, and the Aston Villa striker insists he never considered his time with England was up.
"No, I never thought my international career was over," he said. "You just have to focus on playing well for your club. Once you've done that, you don't know what's going to happen. I got a taste of it before and I am enjoying it now."
Like former Villa team-mate Gareth Barry, Heskey is certainly benefiting from the arrival of Fabio Capello, who has guided England through their faultless start to European Zone Group 6. The Italian has got rid of the old boy's network which seemed to have taken hold, while his attention to detail ensures everyone is kept on their toes.
"Fabio coming in has helped a lot of players," said Heskey. "Training sessions are recorded and the manager probably watches them again, so you have to make sure you are really doing well."
For Heskey that has always meant being an effective foil. Owen was the first to find what an advantage having such a willing workhorse alongside him can be, now it is Wayne Rooney's turn to profit.
The statistics are pretty stark. Whereas Heskey was scoring for just the seventh time in 53 internationals during the first half in Almaty, Rooney's acrobatic effort was his 22nd in 51 matches, putting him 15th on the all-time England list. Heskey is keen to increase his output, which could be bad news for Andorra.
"As a striker you want to get as many goals as you can," Heskey added. "I will keep plugging away and hopefully get a few more because it is good to have your name on the scoresheet. But you should never lose sight of the main objective, which is to win games."
That target should be achieved without too much difficulty against a side with just three wins in 84 internationals - against Albania, Belarus and Macedonia - and for whom merely scoring at Wembley would represent a major achievement. Capello clearly can take nothing for granted, even though the chances are if England were facing stronger opposition at the end of his first full year in charge, he might well have opted to bring in replacements for the injured Rio Ferdinand and suspended Barry.
Instead, he will choose from the remaining 21 members of his squad, with both Glen Johnson and Gary Neville training this morning despite weekend fitness concerns. And Heskey confirmed there is no sense of the looming summer holidays at England's Watford HQ as they attempt to complete a magnificent seven.
"No-one is thinking about their holidays," he said. "We are just very focused on getting the right result.
"We are always confident going into any game, but we must remind ourselves Andorra frustrated us for a long time away from home, so we have got to be careful," said Heskey.
"Andorra are a physical side, but we play in a physical league, so we are used to that. Hopefully, we will be okay."