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|
|Copa Libertadores Review: Universitario, Libertad notch first wins|
|RB Leipzig´s attack worrying Wolfsburg|
|Jardim backs busy Monaco|
|De Boer: ´I´d only sign for an interesting club´|
|Martinez calls for unity|
|A-League Preview: Phoenix staying grounded|
|Danish FA agree to more pay negotiations|
|Rodgers feared sack before ´radical´ change|
|Chelsea turned Valencia´s head - Allardyce|
|Poyet spat was not a good look - Bruce|
|Gold ´hopeful´ over Reid deal|
|´No problem´ with Bruce, says Poyet|
|Sherwood confident in Villa upturn after derby win|
|Pulis stands by Foster after costly error|
|Boulogne 1 Saint-Etienne 1 (aet, 3-4 on penalties): Minnows´ run ends on penalties|
|Schalke want to buy Nastasic|
|Pardew feeling hard done by after Southampton defeat|
|Football League Review: Boro go top as Derby falter again|
|Koeman pleased with ´crucial´ victory|
|Agbonlahor eyes turnaround as Villa end wait for win|
|Equaliser at Hull hit my arm - Rodwell|
|Reus injury ´only a dead leg´|
|Lyon hope for long Lacazette stay|
|DFB-Pokal Review: Leverkusen shake off old foes Kaiserslautern|
|Aston Villa 2 West Brom 1: Benteke on the spot as Villa win at last|
|Hull City 1 Sunderland 1: Rodwell earns visitors a draw in dramatic encounter|
|Southampton 1 Crystal Palace 0: Mane wins it late on|
|Dynamo Dresden 0 Borussia Dortmund 2: Reus withdrawal overshadows Pokal progression|
|Bruce and Poyet clash in ugly touchline spat|
|Dortmund star Reus in new injury scare|
|Lyon success a source of pride for Gonalons|
|Juventus v Fiorentina: Allegri seeking improvement|
|Edu hails ´phenomenon´ Sanchez|
|´Huge money´ needed to take Cech away - Mourinho|
|Lazio v Napoli: Benitez calls for unity in trophy quest|
|West Ham´s Cole landed with FA charge|
|Leeds fan group want meeting with Hollywood star Crowe|
|Suso prepared to wait for Milan chance|
|Ashley fined £7,500 for influence in Rangers|
|Blanc praises Luiz´s versatility|
|Pochettino: League Cup heartbreak will help Spurs grow|
|Carver understands frustration with Van Gaal|
|AFC Champions League Review: Jeonbuk and Kashiwa win convincingly|
|Guardiola committed to Bayern amid City rumours|
|Hughes: Bruce is defending the indefensible|
|Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao: Stuani eyeing ´momentous´ cup final|
|Everton waiting on Baines fitness|
|I am not under pressure, Pellegrini insists|
|Guardiola demands focus ahead of Braunschweig clash|
|Van Gaal: Di Maria needs a year to settle|
|Luis Enrique vows to attack Villarreal|
|Jedinak hit with four-game ban|
|Mourinho guarantees Terry deal|
|Mowbray lands Coventry job|
|Strootman on schedule for Roma return|
|Mikel out for a month after surgery|
|Palace midfielder Jedinak accepts FA charge|
|Wigan chairman Whelan stands down, hands reins to 23-year-old grandson|
|Jedinak stays quiet on FA charge|
|England winger Johnson released on bail|
|Gareca signs four-year Peru deal|
|Sandro set for QPR return|
|Hull dealt Brady blow|
|Garcia going nowhere, insists Pallotta|
|Allardyce: Chelsea aren´t allowed to be off form|
|Arsenal boosted by Ramsey return|
|No early Barca return for Tello|
|Pirlo inspired stunning Tevez free-kick|
|Brunt vows to heap misery on Villa|
|Barry: Everton needs points on the board to avoid relegation scrap|
|Janmaat hails ´fantastic´ Van Gaal|
|Cahill vows to silence critics|
|Spurs legend Mackay passes away|
|Adrian: I get good results against Mourinho|
|Hoffenheim boss wary of rising expectations|
|Sturridge edging closer to his best - Rodgers|
|Kroos happy with deeper role|
|Terry ´fighting´ for Chelsea contract|
|Townsend: No excuses for Tottenham|
|Garcia applauds Roma´s ´magnificent´ comeback|
|Belenenses 0 Pacos de Ferreira 1: Moreira seals rare away win|
|Juve angry at Roma draw - Allegri|
|Roma 1 Juventus 1: Keita keeps slim Scudetto hopes alive|
|Celta Vigo 1 Elche 1: Controversial late penalty gives visitors a point|
|Turkish Super Lig Review: Gala extend lead at the top|
|Paris Saint-Germain v Monaco: Jardim rejects de-facto final talk|
|Stuttgart, Freiburg named in doping claims|
|Dyche hails Ings determination ahead of Liverpool showdown|
|Newcastle United v Manchester United: Mata out to make more memories|
|England winger Johnson suspended after arrest on underage sex charge|
|Liverpool back in the black|
|Jedinak charged with violent conduct|
|BREAKING NEWS: Police make arrest on underage sex charge amid reports England international is held|
|Schone delighted to extend Ajax deal|
|Montolivo and De Jong suffer injuries|
|Bayern Munich v Eintracht Braunschweig: ´Self-critical´ holders in no mood to ease off, says Muller|
|Tottenham v Swansea City: Pochettino out to banish League Cup disappointment|
|QPR v Arsenal: Austin ready for survival fight|
|Sherwood: No hard feelings over missing out on West Brom job|
|Chelsea and Everton fined for fracas|
|Villarreal v Barcelona: Final in sight for visitors|
|Stoke City v Everton: Howard calls for back-to-basics approach|
|Pearson: I understand Pellegrini pressures|
|West Brom sweating on fitness of Berahino and Ideye|
|Manchester City v Leicester City: Pellegrini demands response|
|Feyenoord and Roma face UEFA charges|
|Liverpool v Burnley: Rodgers full of respect for visitors|
|Brown has red card overturned|
|Rodgers heaps praise on Allen|
|Koeman critical of Jedinak elbow|
|Bruce hits back at Hughes over Figueroa challenge|
|Koeman sets 61-point target for Southampton|
|Ibe set to miss a month with knee injury|
|Klopp looking to maintain momentum|
|Bent out for three to four weeks with hamstring injury|
|Schmidt ready for Kaiserslautern clash|
|West Ham v Chelsea: Mourinho turning attention back to the league|
|Barca must not be distracted by Clasico, says Busquets|
|Terry rules out England return|
|De Boer demands more despite PSV win|
|Bony: We have to win every game|
|Subotic rejects Serbia call-up|
|Benitez frustrated at refereeing decisions|
|Real Madrid must learn from Villarreal draw - Marcelo|
|QPR announce losses of £9.8m|
|Rutten to leave Feyenoord|
|First trophy for ´new´ Chelsea - Mourinho|
|Icardi the future of Inter, says Ausilio|
|Patience needed from ´brilliant´ United fans - Rooney|
|Allen hails ´next level´ Coutinho|
|Points over milestones for Cisse|
|Hecking ´furious´ with Wolfsburg defence|
|CONCACAF Champions League Preview: DC United face uphill task to reach semis|
|AFC Champions League Preview: Al Ain enhanced, Wanderers prepare for Evergrande reunion|
|Coupe de France Preview: PSG, Monaco to meet again|
|Crouch happy to silence doubters|
|Blanc questions rivals´ mental strength as PSG gain ground|
|Kane: Fortune favoured Chelsea|
|Ancelotti defends Isco substitution|
|Rooney: Di Maria will come good|
|Stubborn Villarreal impress Real´s Pepe|
|PSG could not ´kill off´ Monaco - Van der Wiel|
|Serie A Review: Napoli suffer defeat at Torino, Lazio lurking|