LONDON, October 7 – Gabriel Agbonlahor could be about to find out if he got the biggest call of his career right.
As a teenager, the Aston Villa striker had the option of playing international football for either Nigeria, the land of his doctor father, or Scotland, from where his mother hails.
Instead, he backed himself to make the grade with England and now he finds himself vowing to grab his chance to force his way into Fabio Capello’s World Cup plans.
Agbonlahor has been in superb form this season after undergoing an upper-body strengthening regime and, after five goals in as many games, has been rewarded with a call up to Capello’s squad for the upcoming qualifiers in the Ukraine and at home to Belarus.
The matches are effectively irrevelant for England, who have already booked their place in South Africa after eight straight wins in their group. But, for fringe players like Agbonlahor, the stakes are extremely high with Capello facing tough decisions on who to include as back-up strikers for his first-choice forward combination of Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey.
Agbonlahor last played for England in a defeat in Spain in February.
And the 22-year-old admitted the intervening months have been tough.
"The England recall means a lot to me," he confided. "I’ve been disappointed I’ve not made the last two squads so I’m happy to get back in.
"Just to get in front of someone like (Sunderland striker) Darren Bent, who has scored seven goals, means he (Capello) is appreciating what I’m doing at the moment.
"I just have to try to keep it up and stay in the squad. I knew that if I got back to my best I was in with a chance of getting in there.
"The manager has given me a chance so hopefully I can reward him if I get an opportunity to play in either of the two games coming up."
England will face Brazil in Qatar next month and then play a friendly in February before Capello announces his provisional squad for the finals.
Agbonlahor may have a few World Cups ahead of him, but he is desperate to be involved this time around.
"If the likes of Wayne Rooney or first choice strikers were to get injured in the World Cup, the manager wants to know who can replace them.
"I think that is what he is looking at now. Hopefully I will get my chance in the next two games and show him I can do the business.
"I’ll do my best to try and impress him in training and try to get on in the games.
"I think I am getting better game by game but I have to try to continue that. I think I’ve been improving every year and I’m always looking to improve even further."
Agbonlahor has thrived at Villa whether he has been used in a wide role or at the tip of a 4-5-1 formation and his goal return – 10, 11 and 13 in the last three seasons – has steadily improved.
"For a striker, it’s all about goals," he said. "Even if you are working hard in other areas, you are judged by how many goals you score.
"At the moment things are going well for me, my confidence is high and I’m certainly not complaining about scoring in five successive games!
"But I always try to keep my feet on the ground because I know there will be times during the season when I am not scoring. That’s when you have to get your head down and work at things."
Capello has called up goalkeeper Joe Hart and centreback Gary Cahill after losing Paul Robinson (hip) and defender Joleon Lescott (calf) to injury.
For Hart, currently on loan at Birmingham from Manchester City, the call-up represents a chance to force his way into contention for a trip to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
He joins fellow keepers Portsmouth’s David James and West Ham’s Robert Green in a squad from which Ben Foster was conspicuously absent.
Foster’s omission has been put down to a chest injury but the Manchester United man was not asked to report for an examination by the England medical staff, suggesting Capello had decided to drop him anyway following a string of high-profile errors in recent matches for his club.
Bolton’s Cahill travelled to Kazakhstan with Capello’s squad in June but has yet to make his England debut.