Bridge is reserve of strength, says confident Capello

Second choice for his club and second choice for his country, Wayne Bridge is used to the waiting game.

The Chelsea left back is threatening to become the forgotten man of English football, a frustrated spectator who is first reserve for Ashley Cole.

A promotion is in the offing against Belarus, taking Cole's place in the England team after the Chelsea defender pulled out of the squad with a hamstring injury on Monday.


Bridge too far? Chelsea full-back is set to play against Belarus in Minsk

Bridge has barely played this season, restricted to seven minutes in the Barclays Premier League, an appearance in the Carling Cup against Portsmouth and 90 minutes against CFR Cluj in the Champions League - when Cole pulled out with a back injury.

It is incredible to think that Bridge, when at Southampton, held the record for consecutive appearances in the Premier League (113).

Then he was a model of consistency, breaking into the England squad under Sven Goran Eriksson ahead of the 2002 World Cup, but always the fall guy the moment Cole came into contention.

In Minsk, taking his place in a makeshift England defence where Matthew Upson will continue to deputise for injured skipper John Terry, he will be under intense scrutiny.

Manager Fabio Capello will pitch him into a team attempting to secure their fourth successive win in the World Cup qualifiers and cement their position at the top of Group Six.

'I don't have a problem playing Bridge because he has played some games for Chelsea, including 90 minutes in the Champions League against Cluj,' said Capello. 'He is an important member of this squad, he has been training well and it is not a risk.'

Bridge has not appeared in a competitive match for England since the 3-2 defeat by Croatia at Wembley last November, when Steve McClaren's team imploded and the Euro 2008 bus left without them.

England's Ashley Cole

Feeling blue: Chelsea's Ashley Cole is out of England's clash on Wednesday night

The defender hardly covered himself in glory that night, given the runaround down Croatia's right flank by Darijo Srna. Bridge's form recovered and he played in the Carling Cup Final loss to Tottenham in February before losing his place in the Chelsea team to . . . yes, you guessed it.

A nudge from the England coaching staff earlier this week told Bridge he would replace Cole. He was urged to focus and make sure he was ready for only his third start since August.

He is supremely fit, boasting the lowest body fat of any player at Chelsea and nominated as the best trainer at the club by Terry.

The full back has had chances to move on, with Juventus and Liverpool declaring an interest last summer, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's arrival convinced Bridge to stay and he signed a new four-year contract.

The Brazilian manager came with a reputation for attacking football, encouraging his full backs to bomb down the wings to provide an additional attacking threat.

Tonight's chance to earn his 31st cap is Bridge's reward for 10 days' training with England when he knew that his only chance of an appearance would be if Cole cried off.

To Bridge's immediate right this evening will be Upson, an unfamiliar player filling in for Terry, but Rio Ferdinand will be on hand to guide the pair.


Mellow Capello: Boss looks on as the England team train in the Dinamo Stadium

'The lads in the squad we have are capable players,' said Ferdinand. 'We see people do it week in week out for their clubs and now they can produce it for their country. As a senior player, I need to step up and lead from the front by putting in a good display.'

Bridge is a respected professional, more than capable of deputising for Cole in an important international, but it will be business as usual when he returns to Stamford Bridge.

Cole's sore hamstring, which keeps him away from potential conflict with the England fans who booed him during the 5-1 thrashing of Kazakhstan on Saturday, is showing signs of a miraculous recovery ahead of Chelsea's Premier League fixture against Middlesbrough on Saturday.

If Cole declares himself fit for a return to domestic duty, Bridge will be back on familiar territory. Second choice, but not second rate.