One last hurrah for old brigade


PARIS, June 14 – A trio of crusty veterans are gearing up for one last charge at the World Cup in South Africa.David James, Thierry Henry and Nwankwo Kanu may be nearing the end of distinguished service for England, France and Nigeria and not the players they once were.

But after an opening series of unimpressive results their wise old heads could be just the ingredient required to get them through to the second round.

James would be back in business after Robert Green’s dreadful blunder handed the United States their equaliser in Saturday’s opening 1-1 Group C draw.

The younger Joe Hart is seen as the natural future number one but coach Fabio Capello having opted for Green may well decide if there is to be a change that experience should prevail and the 39-year-old James be given one last chance for the ‘Three Lions’.

James, better known these days for his wide range of bizarre hairstyles and collection of bicycles, has had an outstanding season under testing circumstances at financially-stricken Portsmouth – where Kanu also plays – but he has a history also of making schoolboy-like errors.

He looked to be almost certain to start against the United States having received the backing from England’s World Cup winning ‘keeper Gordon Banks and the number one shirt when Capello announced the squad numbers – only to be denied again.

"It’s frustrating to go to a World Cup and not play. In Japan, in 2002, David Seaman was the outstanding number one, but I didn’t know where I was in the pecking order for number two," James said last month.

"This time I genuinely don’t know where I am. Mr Capello does not give too much away."

Henry at least knows what it is like to play in a World Cup having appeared in three – starting off with the high of the 1998 triumph and losing in the 2006 final – and laid claim to regaining his place in the starting line-up when he impressed after coming on in the second-half of the 0-0 draw with Uruguay.

For his fellow squad members the 32-year-old may no longer be captain, but he is still the player they look up to.

"I don’t know if he accepts being no longer first choice that easily," said his Barcelona team-mate Eric Abidal, who it is rumoured is one of those pressuring coach Raymond Domenech to select him in the starting line-up.

"He has huge international experience, he has had a difficult six months in Barcelona. He is a professional to the end, and he will do anything for the squad, his attitude is based on that."

Domenech is an unpredictable sort at the best of times but there is every chance that he will renege on his original decison and give Henry a chance to add to his 51 goals in 122 internationals against Mexico on June 17.

Champions League and Olympic gold medal winning striker Kanu has defied the advancing years and a serious heart problem just after the 1996 Olympic triumph to appear at his third World Cup finals.

Even he concedes that this will be his final bow on the global stage but he is determined to make it a memorable one and after Nigeria failed to convert their chances in the 1-0 defeat by Argentina he will be eyeing a starting spot against Greece on June 17.

"I know I cannot play on until I am 50 so this will be my last World Cup, but I still feel I have something to offer," he said.