Cole seizes last chance to prove he's no ordinary Joe
IT was a weekend of omens in Graz, from the opera singer who performed on a tightrope in the town on Saturday afternoon as a prescient symbol of Joe Cole's predicament on the edge of the squad, to the pink advertising hoarding for lastminute.com that offered its own commentary on his attempts to demonstrate to Fabio Capello that a ticket for Wednesday's Virgin Airbus to Johannesburg should have his name on it.
Though Cole's World Cup pedigree is undeniable -- his signature goal in Cologne that saw off Sweden four years ago was one of the tournament's most photogenic -- his hopes seemed to have been slipping as Adam Johnson's were rising in the course of the past year.
But Cole was clutching a copy of the Chris Ryan novel 'Ultimate Weapon' as he left the UPC Arena in Graz last night and that sums up what Capello has always known he represents.
When Sven-Goran Eriksson, another manager who did not always select Cole, stood up at the Cafe Royal eight years ago and declared him a member of his 2002 squad, he said it was because the Londoner, then a 20-year-old with West Ham, was one of those players "who can come on and change things". He proved the same here.
As that hoarding suggested, there was only 45 minutes to demonstrate that he could make a difference but Cole delivered.
To start with, there came a few of those smart flicks with the inside of the heel that look like smart-arse tricks when they go wrong, which they did. But the sight of a player inclined to try something was a matter to celebrate on an afternoon when England looked so effete and Cole, by Capello's design, was everywhere. He began his try-out behind Wayne Rooney and had gravitated down to the right side of midfield by the time Ashley Cole picked him out with a left-footed pass which encouraged him to whip around the full-back and deliver the cross which was diverted into the net by Marcus Tanaka.
"I just bounced it off his foot into the net," Cole joked last night, his demeanour reminding us of that brash confidence that has been missing from England for the 19 months since the cut he received to his head in Croatia needed 20 stitches.
But Cole was the one with a knack of making things happen. The pass he struck to Ashley Cole elicited a cross which Yuji Nakazawa deflected in.
The occasional nature of Cole's contributions is what so often invites debate on his contribution, or lack of it, as a team player. But the same could be said of the day Cole's inside-of-heel flick -- not so smart-arse -- into the net at Old Trafford which proved so critical to Chelsea's title.
Capello was there to witness that one, too, and on the basis of the way the Italian was talking last night, it seems safe to assume that Cole will make the cut.