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Carragher glad to be back in thick of it

Jamie Carragher speaks with such honesty about football that it has been hard to disbelieve any of the observations which have made his return to the international scene such a welcome one.

So his reflections on his first international experience in three years — the second half against Mexico on Monday night — can only be taken on face value. “Yes, it was good to be back.”

But the sense of deja vu for Carragher must have surely been unmissable when Fabio Capello delivered his team news at Wembley. The 32-year-old's apparent final straw with England came in Estonia, in June 2007, when Ledley King's name on the teamsheet alongside John Terry told Carragher — who had expected to start with Rio Ferdinand absent —that he was way down the pecking order.

The expectation was slightly different on Monday because it was the right-back position which Capello's general manager, Franco Baldini, wanted to discuss with Carragher when he first arranged a meeting after a Liverpool league match at West Ham United in January 2008, but the net effect was the same.

A starting line-up in which Carragher had been touted to start as right-back, in a hint that Capello preferred the greater defensive solidity he offered, instead included Glen Johnson in that position with King alongside Ferdinand in Terry's absence.

King's performance was not faultless — Guillermo Franco troubled the Tottenham player — but he seems to be the preferred back up centre-half and, more significantly for Carragher, Johnson did

just enough defensively to warrant the right-back's position against the USA in Rustenburg on June 12.

Capello, who never fails to extol Johnson's virtues, gave him the full 90 minutes against Mexico, and his goal — transferring the ball from left to right foot and back again before unravelling a wonderful strike — was so enervating that the manager must surely see him as his prime option.

Carragher must now look to England's final pre-tournament international against Japan in Graz on Sunday for an opportunity to further demonstrate his worth but he will be hard pushed to match what his Liverpool team-mate did three days ago, which will be tough on a player who has spent most of the past season at Anfield covering for Johnson when the defensive side of his game has let him down. It was typical of Carragher to conjure up the memory of another example of Johnson's attacking prowess in the immediate aftermath of the 3-1 win over Javier Aguirre's side.

“I'm just thinking he scored a good goal at Bolton this season,” Carragher said.

There was no sense of a player wondering whether he has been right to come out of retirement though, even though Carragher does not view his return with the same sense of wonderment as many who have been captivated by what was the stand-out story of the squad announcement.

“It wasn't necessarily a case of memories coming flooding back [on Monday],” he said. “I played at Wembley once before about three years ago against Brazil.

“It's a massive occasion playing for England and Wembley's a great stadium and I haven't been here to often so that was nice.”

Belfast Telegraph