McClaren covers backs with Young

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England manager Steve McClaren on Wednesday called up Charlton Athletic right-back Luke Young to his squad for the two forthcoming European Championship qualifying matches. England are without first-choice right-back Gary Neville, who has damaged ankle ligaments, while his understudy Micah Richards is a doubt for Saturday’s Group E game in Israel with a calf injury.

Capped seven times, Young made his debut against the US in May 2005, but the 27-year-old has not played for England since a friendly win over Argentina in November that year in Geneva. He has been drafted in as cover should Richards not be fit in time, though McClaren has two utility defenders available in Jamie Carragher and Phil Neville. England’s second game is against Andorra on Wednesday.

A strike by public service workers in Israel that could have prevented England fans from flying in for Saturday’s game ended after eight hours on Wednesday, when the government agreed to pay unpaid wages.

Scotland midfielder Nigel Quashie has been ruled out of the European Championship qualifiers against Georgia and Italy. The West Ham player has not recovered from an ankle injury.

West Ham, meanwhile, revealed that their £7.25m striker Dean Ashton will not play again until the start of next season after undergoing additional minor surgery on the ankle he broke while training with England in August. Ashton, 23, had an operation on Monday night to remove an area of scar tissue around the break. After a long rehabilitation programme, the striker suffered a succession of setbacks in his attempt to reach full fitness. Medical advice then recommended the surgery.

The news is another blow to West Ham’s hopes of avoiding relegation. The club lie second from bottom of the Premier League and face the prospect of a possible points deduction if found guilty of charges relating to their controversial signings of Argentine internationals Carlos Tevez and and Javier Mascherano.

Portsmouth’s former England striker Andy Cole has joined Birmingham City on loan until the end of the season after only eight months at Fratton Park. The 35-year-old striker has made only nine first-team starts for Pompey since a £500,000 move from Manchester City in August.

Steve Bruce, manager of Birmingham, said he believes the former Manchester United and Newcastle striker could help the club’s push for promotion back to the Premiership. ‘‘I just feel we need that extra bit of experience and quality up front,” said Bruce. “We have very young players at the top end of the pitch, people like Cameron Jerome, DJ Campbell and Nicklas Bendtner although they all have great potential.”

Cardiff City’s promotion prospects have been hit after striker Michael Chopra was ruled out for the next four matches. Top-scorer Chopra, who has hit 21 goals this season, was injured during the 3-1 defeat at Derby at the weekend. The results of a hospital scan have confirmed a damaged hamstring.

Sevilla have asked to switch the date of their Uefa Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur. The Cup holders are due to meet Spurs on April 5 in the first leg of their last-eight tie but that date coincides with the first day of the Easter religious festival in the city. More than 1m people are expected in Seville to take part and the local authorities wish to avoid a clash with a big sporting event. Uefa will consult both clubs before a decision is made.

CRICKET England captain Michael Vaughan is fully fit for the World Cup Group C decider with Kenya on Saturday after an injury scare, the team said on Wednesday. Vaughan, who recently returned from long-standing knee and hamstring problems, tripped on a pot hole during training on Tuesday and had ice applied to his knee.

“He is fine and he is looking forward to the game,” England wicketkeeper Paul Nixon said. “He is 100 per cent. It was just a little tweak.” England must win the game against Kenya in St Lucia to progress to the next stage, the Super Eights.

Nixon was one of six players fined for a late-night drinking session after Friday’s defeat by New Zealand, which also led to Andrew Flintoff being dropped for the win over Canada and stripped of the vice-captaincy.

Nixon said: “We’ve moved on as a team. Personally I just had a reasonably quiet night and stayed out too late in the public domain. I’ve learnt my lessons.” He added that the controversy might have a positive effect. “Anything like this brings guys together.”

Meanwhile, possible problems for players resulting from long tours abroad appear to have been recognised by England officials. It was announced yesterday that next winter’s tour of Sri Lanka will have a long gap between the one-day and Test series, giving some players a month’s break in between. The one-day side will arrive in Sri Lanka on September 25, playing a warm-up match and five ODIs before October 15. The Test squad heads out a month later and will play two three-day warm-up matches before the first of three Tests begins on December 1 in Galle, where the stadium is being rebuilt following the devastating 2004 tsunami. Further Tests will follow in Colombo and Kandy before the side returns home two days before Christmas.

THURSDAY’S WORLD CUP FIXTURES:

Group A – Netherlands v Scotland

Group C – Canada v New Zealand

RUGBY UNION The former All Black centre Mark Mayerhofler has agreed to remain at Newcastle until after the World Cup. Mayerhofler was due to leave Kingston Park at the end of this season but the 34-year-old centre has extended his contract until November 1. Newcastle could lose centres Jamie Noon and Mathew Tait to England’s World Cup squad while Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson are also likely to be required in France during September and October. Director of rugby John Fletcher said Mayerhofler would not play again this season after undergoing surgery for a long-standing shoulder injury, but would be fit for the start of the next campaign.

TENNIS Wimbledon champion Amélie Mauresmo is expected to be sidelined for at least another month after having her appendix removed. The former world number one underwent successful surgery in Paris on Sunday and left hospital on Wednesday. Mauresmo said she hoped to be playing again in time for the clay-court season.

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