Source AP ©

England soccer stars suffer

David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard could find it harder than usual to get back in the England team.

The trio were among several injured players to miss England's crucial European Championship qualifiers against Israel and Russia, and had to watch their less-heralded replacements excel to lift the team to consecutive 3-0 victories.

With his star players missing, England coach Steve McClaren ignored more predictable replacements and brought in Gareth Barry, Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips. He was rewarded by consecutive wins at Wembley that revived England's chances of reaching next year's tournament - and his chances of keeping his job.

England had faltered under McClaren as he tried to fit the supposedly most talented players into his lineup. With some of them missing, he ended up fielding what proved to be a stronger team.

There were still defensive weaknesses, but the benefit was proved conclusively Wednesday when England scored three times against a Russian team that had conceded just one goal in eight previous qualifying matches.

Barry was involved in the buildup to two goals, while Heskey set up Michael Owen for one and was a constant menace to the visiting defense.

"Emile's been out for three years and everyone was wondering 'Would he come back, would he play again?"' McClaren said. "But he was one of a few players who played so well.

"Gareth was another who contributed when given the chance. It's been about partnerships out there: Gareth with Steven Gerrard, Emile with Michael."

Heskey only played against Israel on Saturday because Rooney was injured and Peter Crouch was suspended. Owen scored once against Israel and twice against Russia to take his tally to 14 goals in 14 starts alongside his former Liverpool teammate.

Owen's return to fitness has been as crucial to McClaren as the fall from it that has afflicted some of his other players.

Owen, who barely played the past two years because of foot and knee injuries, now has 40 goals in 85 internationals. Only Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and record-holder Bobby Charlton, with 49, have scored more for England.

"You can never write him off," McClaren said. "He's scored in his last four games now. He's fitter, sharper, and not just with his goals - he's dropping in, linking up, working hard.

"The partnership with Heskey has really worked in the last two games."

That could be bad news for Rooney, who is sidelined with a foot injury but hoped to be fit just in time for next month's return match at Russia.

It was Rooney's emergence that cost Heskey his place in the team more than three years ago, but Rooney has not scored a competitive goal for England since the 2004 European Championship.

Although Heskey has just five goals in 45 internationals, Rooney does not seem as adept at bringing out the best in Owen.

Lampard, who was already attracting the ire of England fans for failing to reproduce the form he shows for Chelsea, could also struggle to get back in.

Barry spent his career at left back or on the left side of midfield at Aston Villa, but was ignored by a succession of England coaches despite the team being weak in both positions. However, a switch into central midfield and injuries to Lampard and Owen Hargreaves led to his selection.

While Lampard and Gerrard have consistently failed to establish an understanding despite the efforts of McClaren and his predecessor, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Barry and Gerrard looked as though they had played together for years.

Barry's defensive work allowed Gerrard to play in the more advanced role he fills for Liverpool, while Gerrard occasionally dropped deep to let Barry join the attack.

Barry was also involved in the build up to two goals in the 3-0 win over Israel, passing to Owen for his goal and swinging in a corner for a header by Micah Richards - who only played because regular right back Gary Neville was also injured.

"It's given the manager another option and that's what international teams need," Barry said.

Beckham, who was only recalled in June after a year out, is likely to have to wait a while longer to add to his 97 caps after Wright-Phillips replaced him on the right wing. The Chelsea player scored against Israel and came close against Russia.

With England needing good results against Estonia, Russia and Croatia to secure its qualification, McClaren seems unlikely to change a winning lineup.

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