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Crouch ready to lead the line for England

WATFORD, England, Nov 19 (Reuters) Peter Crouch is ready to lead England's attack as a lone striker if coach Steve McClaren decides to play it safe in Wednesday's crunch Euro 2008 qualifier with Croatia.

England only need a draw at Wembley to qualify for next year's finals with the Croatians from Group E.

That need, along with the injury absences of strike pair Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, has led to speculation that McClaren will ditch England's usual two-man attack and deploy Crouch on his own, supported by a five-man midfield.

''I have done it before in big games for Liverpool and England and I have always managed to cope with the responsibility.

I am sure I will do so again on Wednesday,'' he told reporters at England's team hotel.

Crouch was on target with a header from a David Beckham corner to score the winner in England's 1-0 friendly victory over Austria in Vienna on Friday and has now has scored 13 goals in his 23 England appearances.

The striker, who stands an impressive 6ft 7ins tall, has scored those 13 goals in nine games -- and England have won every time he has scored.

Despite those impressive statistics, Crouch knows he still has to win over those who doubt his credentials at the top level.

''I have always had to try and prove myself -- and that's the same every time you play at a high level, whether it's for Liverpool or England,'' he said.

''You have to prove yourself to stay in the team and win football matches.'' Along with Rooney and Owen, McClaren is unable to call on two other injured strikers - Emile Heskey and Andrew Johnson.

Darren Bent has been called into the squad as cover, but will be on the bench at best for the match.

Defeat for England would almost certainly mean a place at Euro 2008 for Russia, who would only have to beat Andorra in their final qualifier on Wednesday.

Reuters SSC RN2307

Story first published: Monday, November 19, 2007, 23:33 [IST]
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