Battle lines drawn for a prized World Cup ticket

Posted by Paddy Davitt

John Ruddy PA PhotosJohn Ruddy has made one appearance for England.

The careers of England goalkeepers John Ruddy and Fraser Forster appear to be inextricably linked.

Both have served Norwich City with distinction during the Canaries' surge from League One to the Premier League. Ruddy was rescued from a succession of loan spells and the shadows at Everton by Paul Lambert after Norwich were frustrated in their attempts to turn Forster's hugely impressive season-long loan stint from Newcastle during 2009-10 into a permanent deal. Forster returned to the northeast and then on to Celtic, where Lambert recommended the Hexham-bred stopper to his former Bhoys teammate and current Parkhead boss Neil Lennon.

Both have flourished in new surroundings on a similar trajectory which has now led to the England squad. But there is compelling evidence to suggest one must brace themselves for World Cup heartache when Roy Hodgson makes his final cut for Brazil and next summer's tournament.

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Joe Hart's return to the fray against Germany at Wembley underlined he will remain Hodgson's trusted first choice despite recent struggles for his club side. Ben Foster was coaxed out of premature international retirement by his former Baggies boss after he worked with the former Manchester United keeper at close quarters. Foster is currently sidelined following foot surgery but likely to return before the new year. Barring a major loss of form or a change of heart, one can surmise Foster would not have returned to the England fold to fulfill a temporary tour of duty; that leaves Ruddy and Forster locked in a duel for the final keeper berth.

Ruddy recently called the chance to go to Brazil as an "experience of a lifetime." Yet it was Forster who was preferred for last week's 2-0 Wembley loss to Chile in his senior debut. Ruddy was forced to watch from the sidelines, denied another opportunity to add to his solitary 45 minutes in a 2-1 friendly win over Italy back in August 2012.

Club form should be the only barometer in the developing battle over the rest of the current campaign. Forster may enjoy the greater cachet and global exposure of Champions League combat for the foreseeable future in Glasgow. Ruddy, however, operates in the higher-profile Premier League on a weekly basis. The Norwich keeper also works every day at his club with England's goalkeeping coach, Dave Watson.

Ruddy endured the disappointment of missing out on the European Championships in 2012 after suffering a broken finger, injured in training just days after his late call-up to the squad. Sentiment is unlikely to play any part in Hodgson's equations. Only the Three Lions' boss and his coterie of closest advisers possess the inside track at this stage. In truth, England's No. 3 goalkeeper will know they board the plane for South America next summer with little prospect of any meaningful action. But that is unlikely to provide consolation to the loser in this most personal of selection battles.


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