England's finest show the right stuff
World Cup duty may still be months away, but the past week's performances from some of England's players can only have cheered up their manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Three sources of worry in recent months -- skipper David Beckham, goalkeeper David Seaman and striker Emile Heskey -- will all have turned into welcome sources of pride.
Beckham's importance to the England cause in South Korea and Japan is arguably more important than any other player.
Though England will make little progress at the finals if Michael Owen were to be injured and unavailable, Beckham showed against Greece last October that he can carry an entire team if he needs to.
But Beckham's dip in form last December and his spell on the Manchester United substitutes' bench -- which manager Alex Ferguson said was due to the need to rest a spot of back trouble -- will clearly have raised a few concerns in the England camp.
While none will have started doubting his talents, Eriksson and his staff are used to seeing a happy and successful Beckham playing regularly for United, and not being merely a VIP spectator.
Now the form that galvanised England in their qualifying campaign last year has clearly returned, culminating this week in two match-winning performances.
The midfielder scored two goals and made another in last weekend's 5-3 win over West Ham, in which England team mate Paul Scholes also scored, before following up with a penalty and an assist as United trounced Boavista 3-0 in the Champions League.
Eriksson will also have been lifted, though, by the comeback of 38-year-old Seaman who had been sidelined for five months by a shoulder injury that jeopardised his trip to the finals.
But Seaman showed he is still England's number one keeper last weekend, when the pony-tailed Gunner saved a well-struck penalty to help Arsenal to a 2-1 win at Aston Villa.
Equally good news for Eriksson has been the welcome return to form of Owen's strike partner at both club and international level, Heskey.
Their 'Little and Large' act in and around the penalty area has been precious to England's qualifying campaign, and the disappointing early season showing from Heskey will not have gone unnoticed.
The powerfully-built forward went three months without scoring a goal before finally ending his drought on January 30 against his old club Leicester City, securing a 1-0 win. Little more than a week later, he scored twice against Ipswich and the goal famine was suddenly history.
Heskey has since gone on to secure Liverpool's place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League almost single-handedly by firing in a late equaliser against Galatasaray last month in Istanbul, and then heading their second goal in Tuesday's 2-0 victory over AS Roma at Anfield.
Such performances from all three men are particularly significant for the England manager.
Eriksson may have plenty of choice for his final squad of 23, but the Swede made a virtue of picking pretty much the same starting 11 as he successfully revived a stuttering qualifying campaign.
The strength of such an approach is that it builds cohesion and understanding within the team on the field of play; the only potential weakness is a loss of form being suffered of one or more of his first-choice players.
Beckham, Seaman and Heskey had all been showing signs of that feared dip. But the past week's events, which had three club managers purring, will also have been welcomed by Eriksson as he looks ahead to next week's friendly against Italy.