Fabio Capello has not ruled out the possibility of a Theo Walcott-style surprise name in England's 2010 FIFA World Cup™ squad.
Walcott famously earned a place in Sven-Goran Eriksson's 23-man party for Germany 2006, despite not having played a first-team game for Arsenal following a January transfer from Southampton. Eriksson's move was widely condemned, particularly as Walcott did not make an appearance in Germany as England bowed out on penalties.
It remains highly improbable such a decision would ever be taken again. And certainly Capello's pragmatic side is likely to win any internal debate. But, as the clock begins to tick down towards his own date with destiny in South Africa next year following Wednesday's 3-0 win over Belarus, Capello has not totally rejected the idea of picking a player who has never previously featured in the 20 England squads he has selected so far.
"Yes. It is possible," he said. "It would have to be a young player because I know the older ones better. We have four good young players already: James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Theo Walcott. They can all improve even more this season."
When a couple of names were thrown at him, Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs received a positive response, although "he has to play". But Everton's Jack Rodwell was greeted with stony, non-plussed silence. Gibbs apart, it is difficult to see Capello looking outside a core of 35 names, 16 of which he already has in his head as players he has plans to take.
The remaining seven will be decided on form grounds much nearer the time, which is why Peter Crouch cannot rest on his laurels despite his Wembley double. "More or less," said Capello, when asked whether 16 players were virtually booked on the flight.
"But I have to repeat the same thing every time. The door is open for all the players. We have to wait until April to see what the situation is with the players. I have spoken with some players who are injured like (Stewart) Downing and (Owen) Hargreaves. But I need to wait for all the players."
Of the long-term casualties, Joe Cole is the only one who could be involved on 14 November, when England tackle five-times world champions Brazil in Qatar. However, Capello will be keeping a close eye on others who were present to hear the Italian raise a glass to "See you in South Africa" in the home dressing room.
While Michael Owen looks increasingly certain to be waiting in vain for a call, Hargreaves' recovery from operations to cure tendinitis in both knees will be monitored very closely. In addition to bringing extra tenacity to midfield, Hargreaves would also provide cover at right-back, where Milner could also be used after impressing on the other flank last night.
"Milner did well," said the Italian. "He is a really good player. He can play midfield, winger, left-back or right-back. He can play in every position apart from centre-forward and centre-back. That is very important."
David Beckham can safely be shunted up from the possibles to the probables too. The 34-year-old retains an unerring ability to make things happen.
Capello has noted a continuing ability to have an impact, no matter how limited Beckham's time on the field. And now the Italian's plea has been heard and a temporary exit from the Los Angeles Galaxy has been agreed, he will not be ignored. "I spoke with David and told him if he wants to come to the World Cup with us, he has to come over here and play," said Capello.
A downbeat assessment of Crouch's contribution brought an inescapable thought the Tottenham man would miss out, although that eye-catching scoring record will surely count in his favour on judgement day. Crouch has netted four in three competitive starts for Capello and 16 from 17 starts overall as part of a scoring record of 18 in 35 internationals, a rate that even Wayne Rooney cannot match.
It is little asides that are harder to interpret. Shaun Wright-Phillips appears to be scrapping with Aaron Lennon for one spot. As the Manchester City winger completed the full game on Wednesday, and scored, the night seemed to have gone in his favour. There is a but.
"At the moment we got the corner, I told Wright-Phillips he had to go towards Beckham," revealed Capello. "He went. He received the ball. He shot and scored. I was happy for this and he did well. But I don't know why I had to tell him. He needs to see these things alone."
It promises to be an anxious few months, not least because, after Brazil, Capello will only have his squad together for three days, ahead of a friendly on 3 March, until the middle of May. He can do little about that. All he can do is acknowledge, after nine wins from 10 and 33 goals scored, qualification could not have gone any better. "No," he agreed, before correcting. "Just perhaps if we played 11 versus 11 in the Ukraine."