Big Moment in Tall Story of Crouch's Unlikely Rise to the Top

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England striker says tomorrow's game can be a defining point in his career. Jason Burt reports

For Peter Crouch, England's encounter with Croatia tomorrow offers up what he calls a "defining match"; a contest that will form part of a sporting legacy; maybe even his legacy. "I haven't had the chance to play in one of those, one that gets us to a World Cup finals or European Championship but this is my chance," he said yesterday. "Any player who is picked on Wednesday can be a hero and put England through."

Crouch has spent much of his career defying definitions - and assumptions - and is fiercely proud of what he has achieved, so far, for his country. "I've always believed in my ability and, that given the chance, I will score goals," he said. "Maybe at times I've felt that I deserved more chances but when they have come I've been mentally strong. I was fortunate enough to get a goal in my first big tournament, the World Cup, and it would have been nice to have gone further then. I would like to score the goals that Michael Owen has scored, to be remembered like that, scoring in massive games in the World Cup - or David Beckham against Greece. There have not been many opportunities to do that in the matches that I've played. But Wednesday night is one."

As England's only fit - and proven - striker Crouch is certain to start the final Group E qualifier at Wembley. "There is a lot of responsibility on my shoulders," the 26-year-old, who will win his 24th cap, acknowledged. "But I feel I've played enough games to accept that responsibility." Crouch also knows that the responsibility may stretch to being a lone striker, supported by players breaking from midfield.

"I've done it before in big games for Liverpool and England," Crouch explained. "And I've always managed to cope with it although playing up there is harder on your own. With a partner you can share the workload. It's better for me personally when you play with two. But if someone like Stevie G [Steven Gerrard] is bombing on, it's certainly going to help."

If that sounds like an indication of how Steve McClaren is going to deploy his resources - with a five-man midfield - then Crouch is keen to add that nothing is, as yet, set. "We have not worked on formations and shape yet," he said. "But I'm sure that come the game we will be organised and ready and we can learn from being beaten by Croatia and it will be a different game at home, in front of our fans."

It could have been a different game had Israel not beaten Russia on Saturday to give England the opportunity to redeem themselves and qualify. Crouch admitted that on the plane back from England's friendly with Austria last Friday - when he scored the winning goal - "opinion was split" among the players as to whether Israel would achieve a positive result.

Crouch watched at home. "It was extremely difficult but there was no way I wasn't going to watch it," he said. "When the shot [from Russia] hit the post I was just waiting for it to go in. That would have been extremely hard to take. Thankfully it did not and then Israel did us a massive favour. Everyone was buzzing. My dad was first on the phone. We all realise what a big chance this is. I remember thinking 'it's up to us now' and I'm excited by that prospect. I think we've been a bit wounded by some of the results because we all realise we are capable of a lot more. When we qualify, as I believe we will, I am sure we will come good."

If qualification is achieved, Crouch is adamant that England have to do better than their usual quarter-final placing. "We all believe we have the ability to go on and win it. That has to be the target," he said.

Talking of which, the "target" man seems to be back in vogue in football with the dominance of players such as Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Crouch himself. "There was a time when a target man was almost abolished and there were not many of us around," Crouch said. …