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Beckham not to play against Croatia

Just hours after being saluted as one of the world's best right-sided midfielders, David Beckham was prepared to bench for Wednesday's European Championship qualifier against Croatia by England coach Steve McClaren.

In another bold move, Aston Villa goalkeeper Scott Carson is set for his first competitive start instead of the error-prone Paul Robinson, who has retained his spot for more than three years. Robinson blundered in Zagreb 13 months ago as Croatia won 2-0.

The 22-year-old Carson, on loan at Villa from Liverpool, only made his international debut in the 1-0 friendly victory at Austria on Friday.

British media reported that the 32-year-old Beckham would be relegated to the bench. It will be the first time he hasn't started an England match after having made the squad since the 1998 World Cup.

With Russia heavily favored to beat Andorra, England needs at least a draw against Croatia to avoid missing the finals of a major tournament for the first time since the 1994 World Cup.

In October 2001, Beckham's goal from a free kick earned a 2-2 draw with Greece and sent England to the World Cup. Beckham, who was injured for much of his first season in U.S. Major League Soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy, will make his 99th appearance if he comes off the bench.

But McClaren had earlier lavished praise on Beckham - pointing out how his big-match experience could be vital in the final Group E qualifier at Wembley.

"He's one of the best players around in that position on the right-hand side and to have him in the squad is invaluable," McClaren said.

He even suggested that he might gamble on Beckham's fitness for such a decisive encounter.

"There's risk in everything, but experience is invaluable in these situations," McClaren said. "It's a big game and you need big game player.

"It doesn't matter what age you are, you can still be a big-game player at 18, at 33 - and we need them tomorrow tonight."

Beckham was England captain under former coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, but was dropped by McClaren when he took over after last year's World Cup.

With new talent struggling, Beckham was recalled in May to revive the qualification campaign. He played a decisive role in Estonia, as well as featuring in friendlies against Brazil and Germany before his injuries kept him out of four matches in September and October.

But now he appears to be replaced in the starting team by the speedier Shaun Wright-Phillips in a 4-5-1 system, with Peter Crouch as the lone striker.

Although he didn't publicly reveal his choices, McClaren disclosed his starting lineup to the players Tuesday evening in private and the details were later leaked.

However, he hinted to reporters that younger players might be preferred.

"You need the experience but also need the innocence of youth to just go out and do the job," he said.

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