Football: Winger emerges as creative force for his country.
SHAUN Wright-Phillips intends to continue working hard with a smile on his face as the looks to cement a permanent place in the England side, writes JIM VAN WIJK.
The 25-year-old Chelsea winger produced a superb display down the right flank against Israel at Wembley on Saturday, setting England on their way to a 3-0 victory with the opening goal. It capped an impressive start to the season for the former Manchester City man, whose career had stalled since a big money move to Stamford Bridge during the summer of 2005.
Wright-Phillips, though, maintains he never questioned his own ability or what at one time looked an uncertain future, following the unequivocal support of friends and family - including his step-father, former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright. "I am not really a negative thinker - I always try to think positive," Wright-Phillips said. "The main thing is that everybody, my family and friends, my dad, they all had the belief in me.
"That was the key factor. They kept me smiling and for me that is the main thing, as long as you are happy and you have confidence in yourself, then life goes on."
Following his impressive recent form, there have been suggestions Wright-Phillips should be a permanent fixture on the right side of England's midfield - ahead of former skipper David Beckham, currently out with a knee problem as he embarks on a new career with Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Chelsea man, however, is not about to be drawn into a debate about who should be in Steve McClaren's starting XI ahead of tomorrow night's crunch Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia at Wembley.
"It is not really my decision," said Wright-Phillips. "I am just happy to be picked in the squad. I want to work hard and continue to be in and around this squad."
Wright-Phillips added: "I have come away with England, and we have all trained well together as a team, and we have just carried that on to the field. The Israel game has put us all on the front foot. We believe in the team and work hard as a team - that showed on Saturday."
England looked a balanced side on Saturday, with Gareth Barry and Steven Gerrard in central midfield and Joe Cole on the left flank. Micah Richards and Wright-Phillips linked up extremely well down their channel, providing a potent, athletic attacking threat.
Wright-Phillips feels it is a partnership which can develop further given the chance. "I know Micah from Manchester City as well and watch him when he plays," said Wright-Phillips. "The key thing was just the communication we had together."
Wright-Phillips added: "We have an understanding, and have been talking together in training. I just said to him, 'If you go past me, I will cover for you and vice-versa.'
"It just comes through the team and they way everyone has been training together. If someone is out of position, we can all just fill in to help out."
Meanwhile, Andrei Kanchelskis has warned that Russia will pose a "dangerous" attacking threat when they face England tomorrow. The former Manchester United winger believes that Guus Hiddink's side will offer a far sterner test than Israel. Russia have proven resilient opposition in Group E, conceding only one goal - an 84th-minute strike from Israel's Amit Ben Shushan in October's 1-1 draw - and Kanchelskis credits their new manager for the current international renaissance.
"Since Guus Hiddink has taken charge there has been a great development in the Russian team," said Kanchelskis. "They play more attractive football than under the previous regime and they have greater strength in depth."
In addition to a resolute defence, Russia have notched 14 goals in their eight qualifying games to date and Kanchelskis, who himself scored four goals in 36 international appearances, believes they have a goalscoring talisman in Sevilla's Aleksandr Kerzhakov. "Russia now have a dangerous attacking side to their game and Aleksandr Kerzhakov is very dangerous," he said. "He has learnt a lot playing at the highest level in Spain and has the predatory instinct."
Kerzhakov scored five goals in 15 La Liga appearances for the Andalucian outfit last term and netted in the 4-3 aggregate Uefa Cup victory over Tottenham en route to lifting the trophy. The 25-year-old striker has also scored five goals, including a hat-trick against Andorra, to help Russia rise to second place in Group E having secured 18 points - one more than England.
Kanchelskis, 38, currently sporting director of Russian side FC Nosta Novotroitsk, added: "The pressure to perform in England is very big. People will say all sorts of bad things when they don't get the results but as soon as the results come it is different. People should wait and see what happens. McClaren needs time."
MIDDLE MEN: England's midfield looked balanced against Israel with Shaun Wright-Phillips, right, in full flight and Joe Cole, Gareth Barry and Steven Gerrard impressing as a unit.; FIRING HOME: Shaun Wright-Phillips' effort beats Dudu Aouate in the Israel goal as the Chelsea winger shined for England.