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|
|Puel pleased with ´good point´ in Israel|
|Mourinho not ´over the moon´ with United wins|
|Southampton investigating Eric Black allegations|
|Rodgers: Celtic would challenge at the top in England|
|Ibrahimovic expects more from United|
|Manchester United 1 Zorya 0: Ibrahimovic header earns Mourinho´s men narrow win|
|De Boer blasts Inter for lack of focus|
|Zarate reveals message to ill wife after goalscoring return|
|Raffael suffers fresh injury setback|
|Hapoel Be´er Sheva 0 Southampton 0: Saints´ winning run comes to an end|
|Sparta Prague 3 Inter 1: De Boer´s side humbled in Europa League again|
|Police to review corruption allegations after Telegraph sting|
|Brady hails Wenger as ´possibly the best ever´ Gunners boss|
|Yacob signs new West Brom deal|
|Guidolin prioritising Swansea improvement over his future|
|Sakho outburst has been dealt with – Klopp|
|Bilic sorry for Allardyce in ´very sad´ week for English football|
|Laporte saga nears conclusion as defender earns France call-up|
|Everton are exceeding expectations – Koeman|
|Wenger could be tempted by an international offer, says ex-assistant|
|No excuses for Liverpool this time, says Klopp|
|Rashford left out of England Under-21 squad|
|Boro must pick up where they left off - Karanka|
|Matuidi could still join Juventus, says Raiola|
|Pardew anticipates battle of the Belgians|
|Legia Warsaw to face Real Madrid behind closed doors|
|England job would be the pinnacle - Pardew|
|Wright sacked by Barnsley|
|Bilic defends West Ham team night out|
|Ramsey withdrawal was Arsenal´s call - Coleman|
|LMA demand ´immediate full disclosure´ of corruption evidence|
|´My answer would be a big fat no´ - Coleman rules out taking England job|
|Leeds dismiss Cellino sting as ´non-story´|
|Gabigol, Rashford and Sanches among Golden Boy nominees|
|Keane slams Arsenal: Half their players will have gloves on soon|
|´Special´ Man City draw a career highlight, says Gordon|
|Southgate admits England situation is ´not ideal´|
|England should have gone for O´Neill, says Shilton|
|PSG´s powers of recovery impress Cavani|
|Howe ´absolutely committed´ to Bournemouth amid England links|
|Man City proved character against Celtic, says Zabaleta|
|Walcott: Sanchez partnership bodes well for Arsenal´s season|
|MLS Review: DC, Impact on track for play-offs|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Tigres, Dallas left waiting|
|Central Sanchez pleases Wenger|
|Barca felt Messi absence - Busquets|
|Martino knew Messi would come out of retirement|
|Shilton never convinced by Allardyce|
|Degenek replaced by Giannou for Socceroos|
|Griezmann will still take penalties - Simeone|
|Simeone proud of ´one of the best´ wins|
|Godin suffers sprained ankle ligament|
|West Ham receive positive news over injured duo|
|Robson: Four wins for Southgate and he´s an England contender|
|Gunes rues Besiktas´ inability to see off Dynamo|
|Sarri: Late goals leave bitter taste|
|Borussia Monchengladbach were exceptional against Barcelona, feels Schubert|
|PSG must be patient, says Emery|
|Celtic are lucky to have Dembele - Rodgers|
|I´m completely focused on Arsenal, insists Wenger amid England talk|
|Hasselbaink denies wrongdoing amid impropriety allegations|
|Ancelotti frustrated by slow, toothless Bayern|
|Barcelona deserved their win - Luis Enrique|
|I want Celtic atmosphere at City – Guardiola|
|Rebrov defends Yarmolenko after ´difficult´ match|
|Rostov draw is two points dropped for PSV, says De Jong|
|Torres eyeing ´magical´ year for Atletico|
|Celtic 3 Manchester City 3: Dembele at the double in six-goal thriller|
|Celtic 3 Manchester City 3: Dembele at the double in six-goal thriller|
|Rostov 2 PSV 2: Propper´s penalty miss costs visitors|
|Besiktas 1 Dynamo Kiev 1: Tsygankov stuns wasteful Turks|
|Napoli 4 Benfica 2: Mertens bags two as Napoli run riot|
|Arsenal 2 Basel 0: Walcott´s capital gains tax Swiss visitors|
|Borussia Monchengladbach 1 Barcelona 2: Pique grabs the winner|
|Atletico Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Carrasco gives Ancelotti first taste of defeat|
|Ludogorets 1 Paris Saint-Germain 3: Cavani inspires comeback win|
|Premier League, FA and EFL to investigate transfer allegations|
|Vardy reveals matchday energy drink and port routine|
|Everton coping without Stones, says Jagielka|
|Sacked Jemez admits to ´great sadness´ at Granada exit after worst start in over 70 years|
|Wenger has so much to offer English football - Schmeichel|
|No truth to England rumours, says Klinsmann|
|Spalletti demands end to damaging Roma ´games´|
|De Boer: Brozovic was punished and forgiven|
|Allardyce paid price for lack of privacy - McClaren|
|Milik can match Lewandowski - Reina|
|LMA ´extremely concerned´ about manager bribe allegations|
|Iwobi: I nearly left Arsenal|
|Mata has found a ´natural habitat´ at United|
|Higuain slowly approaching top form|
|´Stupid´ Allardyce driven by money - Dyke|
|Wijnaldum vows to improve|
|Renato Sanches needs time at Bayern - Hitzfeld|
|Ibrahimovic nurturing United talent - Lingard|
|Mourinho feels sorry for Allardyce|
|United boss primed for ´must-win´ Europa League tie|
|Mourinho keen to protect under-fire Rooney|
|Jeonbuk Motors 4 Seoul 1: Leonardo brace puts hosts in the driving seat|
|Maloney returns to Scotland squad|
|Van Persie: Kids will decide my future|
|Entrapment won on this occasion - Allardyce|
|Ibra-Rashford pairing the answer for United - Neville|
|Tevez hints at imminent retirement|
|England in safe hands with Southgate - Glenn|
|Holman talks up A-League quality|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Red Bulls progress, Timbers win|
|Januzaj blow for Sunderland|
|Navas accepts blame for Dortmund equaliser|
|Sporting assistant Raul Jose pleased with win|
|Nuno left to regret slow start as Porto fail on English soil again|
|Vardy rejected Arsenal due to style|
|Simeone: I am not Griezmann´s mentor|
|Schmidt bemoans ´brutal´ Monaco equaliser|
|Ranieri doesn´t trust bookies over England job|
|Genesio worried wastefulness will cost Lyon in long run|
|Preud´homme admits Champions League too much for Club Brugge|
|Telegraph passes findings to FA after further corruption claims|
|Zidane: Draw difficult to accept|