Congratulations for Wayne

Last updated : 10 May 2002 By Christian Kelly
Anyone who's seem Bridge's composed, intelligent defending (which rules out anyone calling themselves a sports journalist, obviously) knows he is the best left back for the 4-4-2 system England play.

By all means if you want a wing back to bomb upfield and ignore defensive duties then Ashley Cole could be your man, but for anything resembling structured, tactical play it has to be Wayne.

I fully expect to see a Bridge/Cole combination being used before the finals, just to see if that would be the best option.

Anyway, I was talking about praise for Bridge, so here's Jason Dodd: "He has been fantastic for us over the last two seasons and he might have sneaked in over the last three games but he has been fantastic in those games and he deserves his place.

"He is a laid back lad who goes about his business and he has proved he can cut it with the best of them and we're hoping he might get the nod in the starting XI.

"We might have two players playing in the England v Sweden game with Anders Svensson involved and that is great for us and it means if the manager is looking to spend in the summer he would be able to attract players to the club knowing it will not hinder their international career.

"He can play against world class players and he is right up there with the fittest players at our club."

Svenn-Goran Eriksson said: "Bridge is a natural left-back. He is left footed and he has good character. He is aggressive, but he also defends good. He is good going forward, a modern left-back. I like him very much."

The only problem is that Bridge got the number 14 jersey, while Ashley Cole got the number three. While it's a squad game, the hacks will no doubt be sure of a Cole start. I think that the best way forward would be a Bridge start, with either Cole in midfield or as an attacking option from the bench.

Bridge himself thinks that this is an option, telling the Echo: "It is my ambition to go out there, keep my head down and hopefully I will get a game.

"You have got to believe you have a chance of starting if you are going out there. Ashley has done really well, he is more of a regular in the England team, so I will pressurise him for a place and, who knows, we might just play together.

"I think it is possible we can play in the same team. Ashley is very good at getting forward, maybe he could play in front of me, but that is up to the manager. All I know is that a lot of people have said that we can play together."

Don't read too much into the squad numbers. As Svenn himself said: "This is the way that the shirts have been allocated. As for my starting XI to face Sweden, we will wait and see on that one, but I can say for sure that squad numbers will certainly not play a part in my team selection.

"I am not going to say who will play against Sweden. We will have to see, we have a lot of time to go.

More plaudits came in from Rory Delap, who will be naturally disappointed not to go himself with the Republic of Ireland. Rory said: "I remember the first time I played against him. He was on the left wing and I was on the right and it was obvious straight away that he had something about him.

"He had pace and ability and when I came off the field and asked who he was, I was gutted to discover he was only 18!

"I could see then that he had everything but that is not always enough. Players don't always achieve what they should but he has worked really hard.

"He really wanted this World Cup place and has proved it over the last few months. It is great for him and for the club that he is going. I just hope he plays.

"He is similar to Ashley Cole - but I know who I would rather have in my team!"

Manager Gordon Strachan thinks very highly of Bridge too, saying: "I am really pleased for him - but not surprised because he has done so well.

"We all knew he would be in the squad but it was still a nerve-wracking wait for him to get it confirmed. Now he can relax and not worry about it.

"I knew a bit about him before I came here but when you are outside a club you don't study players too much. He is one of many who have surprised me.

"He handled the step up very well. It was clear he had the intelligence to go up to that level - and that is what you need. It is the same here. If youngsters show the same intelligence as the first-team and know what is going on then they are ready."