LONDON (AFP) - Fabio Capello has dropped the strongest hint yet that David Beckham will be on the plane to South Africa for next year's World Cup finals.
Beckham was only on the pitch for the last half hour of England's final qualifier, a 3-0 win over Belarus at Wembley which made it nine wins out of ten for Capello's squad in Group Six.
But he made enough of an impression to collect the man-of-the-match award, prompting Capello to compare him to Barack Obama, who picked up the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month after just over nine months in office.
Capello was being light-hearted with that remark but he was serious in his endorsement of Beckham's ability to come off the bench and influence matches.
The 34-year-old is expected to shortly agree another loan move to AC Milan for the second half of this season which will ensure he is operating at the kind of level England's Italian coach regards as essential if he is to be involved in what will be his fourth World Cup.
"With Beckham, the most important thing is that he has to play," Capello said.
"For me it is very important because Beckham, when he plays, whether it is five minutes, 20 minutes or half an hour, he always plays very well. He is focused on the game. This is important. Sometimes players when they come on, have difficulty to enter the game but David always plays very well."
Beckham's short corner led to Shaun Wright-Phillips scoring England's second goal a minute after he had come on and he also struck the post in the closing minutes of the match.
But the decision to name him the game's outstanding player would have come as a surprise to Peter Crouch, who scored England's other two goals, and the impressive Gareth Barry, who created both of the Tottenham forward's strikes.
"I was a bit surprised," Capello admitted. "It was like Obama winning the Nobel prize after nine months as President, Beckham being man of the match after 30 minutes."
Capello would not be drawn on whether Crouch's double would force him to reconsider his preference for Emile Heskey as a first-choice partner for Wayne Rooney, who missed Wednesday's match with a calf injury.
"I know Peter Crouch very well, I know very well the other players. He is one part of the squad, not more.
"It will depend on the game we are playing and the style we want to play which players are on the pitch."
Crouch has now claimed 18 goals in 35 international appearances, a record that contrasts markedly with Heskey's seven goals from 57 caps.
England's opener came after Barry had sent Gabriel Agbonlahor to the byline, from where he delivered a low cross that Crouch prodded home.
Further half-chances followed for both strikers but Capello was soon looking irate on the touchline as England's tempo and concentration levels dipped.
John Terry resorted to shirt pulling to prevent Sergei Kornilenko from getting away from him on the edge of the box, and the resulting free-kick allowed Sergei Omelyanchuk to test Ben Foster, who needed a second attempt to gather the drive.
Foster looked more assured in taking Omelyanchuk's swerving drive cleanly just short of the hour mark, by which time Beckham was preparing to make an entry that was greeted by the biggest cheer of the night.
The 34-year-old's immediate impact owed as much to his reputation as his technical prowess.
With the Belarus defence anticipating one of his inswinging corners from the left, they neglected to pay any attention to the unmarked Wright-Phillips.
Collecting Beckham's short ball, the winger skipped past Belarus's captain Aleksandr Kulchy and found the far corner of the net from the edge of the area.
Beckham had the crowd cheering again with a 40-yard pass onto the chest of Crouch. The striker was unable to make the most of a promising position but Beckham had provided a reminder of what Capello sees in him.
Foster also had a good evening and the Manchester United goalkeeper had to produce a strong left hand to keep out Omelyanchuk's close range drive at the end of the visitors' best move of the night.
Like the opener, England's third goal started with a fine pass from Barry, this time for Carlton Cole, whose shot was parried by Yury Zhevnov into the path of Crouch, who gratefully accepted the invitation to stake his claim for a seat alongside Beckham on the plane to South Africa.
|P. Crouch||4' 76'|
|Coach: F. Capello|
|Lallana to miss up to six weeks with knee injury|
|Isgrove maintains Koeman´s perfect start|
|Lens announce Ligue 1 appeal success|
|Pekerman talks due in August|
|PSG sanction ´harsh´, claims FFF chief|
|Garcia: Strootman going nowhere|
|Van Aanholt departs Chelsea for Sunderland|
|Benfica sign Manchester United flop Bebe|
|Campbell makes Palace move|
|Reed signs new deal at Southampton|
|Juve stunned in Allegri´s first match|
|AFA fined over Falklands banner|
|Robinho likely to move, claims agent|
|Drogba completes Chelsea return|
|Kiyotake moves to Hannover|
|Marotta: Juventus eyeing striking additions|
|Bakayoko set for Monaco switch|
|J.League Preview: Vortis out to improve dismal fortunes against Ardija|
|Juve complete Pereyra deal|
|Ranieri named Greece head coach|
|Fiorentina agree Basanta deal|
|Di Natale backs Pereyra´s Juve move|
|Iniesta: Suarez has talent to restore Barca glory|
|Cerci in charge of his future, says Cairo|
|West Ham target new striker|
|Pardew hopeful over De Jong|
|Rodgers expects new Gerrard deal|
|Jones: United embracing Van Gaal methods|
|Henry: Time had come to sell Suarez|
|Brunt eyes new West Brom deal|
|Arsenal´s World Cup winners to miss league opener|
|Modric hails Rodriguez, Kroos signings|
|Cech does not want bench role|
|Inzaghi blames fatigue for Milan loss|
|Real´s time to shine, says Ancelotti|
|Real Salt Lake 3 Montreal Impact 1: Garcia stars in Utah|
|Downing: Carroll injury a ´big blow´|
|Irvine: I have not seen Ideye play live|
|Olympiacos triumph in Toronto|
|Giggs likens Van Gaal to Ferguson|
|Copa do Brasil Review: Corinthians among trio on the verge of progression|
|Blanc: World Cup stars will move on|
|Pinto steps down as Costa Rica coach|
|Mourinho planning Drogba swoop|
|UEFA Europa League Review: Rosenborg complete comeback to see off Sligo|
|Mathieu out to enjoy Barcelona move|
|Mandzukic not Diego Costa´s replacement|
|Eliseu returns to Portugal with Benfica|
|Sanabria makes Roma switch|
|Carroll to miss start of season|
|Vidal: I´m not going to Manchester|
|Xavi staying at Barcelona|
|Hannover complete Gulselam signing|
|Astori loaned to Roma, Cagliari confirm|
|Nigeria to talk with Keshi over return|
|Gamberini makes Chievo move|
|Besic poised to complete Everton move|
|Marseille move Montpellier fixture from Stade Velodrome|
|CSL Preview: Harbin eye Luneng scalp, Guangzhou face Hena|
|Guardiola preaches patience with Lewandowski|
|Lampard joins New York City|
|Blanc coy on Di Maria speculation|
|CAF Confederation Cup Preview: ASEC coach confident, Al Ahly seek qualification|
|Chelsea loan Piazon to Frankfurt|
|Pochettino has high hopes for Lamela|
|Aguirre appointed as Japan coach|
|Swansea swoop for Montero|
|Pozuelo makes Vallecano switch|
|Fred back at Shakhtar, Ismaily to follow|
|CFF investigate Fofana accusations|
|Suarez could make sensational Clasico debut|
|Ribery in line for return, says Guardiola|
|Reus could resume training in two or three weeks - Klopp|
|Roma need another defender, says Garcia|
|Everton on verge of new signings|
|Rodrigo hails Nuno after Valencia switch|
|Delph eager for new Villa deal|
|Ljajic not seeking Roma exit|
|Talks held as players strike in Ecuador|
|Crouch excited by Bojan capture|
|Lambert expects swift recovery for Cole|
|West Ham duo fail to travel|
|United to play 3-4-3, says Van Gaal|
|Lallana, Markovic set to feature against Olympiacos|
|Real want to win every trophy, says Bale|
|San Jose Earthquakes 5 Chicago Fire 1: Hosts break winless streak|
|Chelsea have "outstanding squad" - Costa|
|United make winning start under Van Gaal|
|Rodgers plays down Borini injury concerns|
|Atletico Mineiro 4 Lanus 3 (agg 5-3): Own goals gift Brazilians the win|
|Dunga names Brazil assistants|
|Man City show class in Kansas|
|Villa too good for Dallas|
|Santos cannot meet Robinho´s demands, says vice-president|
|Mourinho happy with goalkeeper situation|
|Borini hurt as Liverpool lose to Roma|
|Palace held to draw by Crew|
|Tottenham down Toronto after Lamela brace|
|San Lorenzo 5 Bolivar 0: Hosts close in on Copa Libertadores final|
|Sunderland forward Scocco joins Newell´s|
|Rodgers: We won´t overpay in transfer market|
|Maccabi Haifa friendly abandoned after pitch invasion|
|USA dynamo Beasley joins Houston|