Aston Villa are poised to have more England representatives at South Africa 2010 next month than they have boasted in any of the previous tournaments in the World Cup’s 80-year history.

James Milner, Emile Heskey and Stephen Warnock are still in contention for a place on the plane when Fabio Capello trims his provisional 30-man group to a final 23 on Tuesday.

And even if one of the trio misses the cut – with Warnock the most likely victim – then Villa still stand to eclipse their previous tally of claret and blues in a Three Lions’ World Cup squad.

Remarkably, our national team has never featured more than one Villa player at a time at football’s most prestigious tournament.

For the first 52 years of the World Cup, which began in 1930, Villa did not have a single representative, although in fairness to the club, England did not even enter the competition until 1950.

Peter Withe was the first to get a call-up, but he failed to kick a ball, while Steve Hodge, David Platt, Gareth Southgate and Darius Vassell are the only Villa lions to pull on the famous Three Lions shirt on the game’s biggest stage.

Less than a month earlier the wristband-wearing striker was the king of the continent when his winner secured Villa’s historic European Cup final triumph over Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

But Withe was restricted to a watching brief in 1982, as Ron Greenwood’s England beat France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait before goalless draws with Spain and West Germany cost them a semi-final place.

Having waited for more than half-a-century to see Villa’s first World Cup player, the claret and blues only had to wait another four years for the second.

By that time, however, Steve Hodge had irreparably damaged his relationship with the Villa Park faithful by touting for a transfer during Villa’s depressing relegation from the First Division.

Even so, Hodge was the first player from the club to play in the World Cup as Bobby Robson’s team made it to the quarter-finals.

He was a 79th minute substitute for Bryan Robson in the 1-0 defeat to Portugal and replaced the skipper after just four minutes of the goalless draw with Morocco.

With Robson ruled out with an ongoing shoulder problem, Hodge started the next three games including 3-0 wins over Poland and Paraguay and the infamous 2-1 last-eight defeat to Argentina.

He even played an unwitting part in one of the most controversial moments in World Cup history when he deflected Jorge Valdano’s cross and Diego Maradona punched the ball in.

The goalscoring midfielder’s call up meant Villa were represented for their third successive World Cup. Like Hodge, Platt had to rely on an injury to captain Bryan Robson for his first involvement in the tournament, stepping off the bench in the second group game – a scoreless stalemate with Holland.

Platt was back on the bench for the 1-0 victory over Egypt – this time replacing Chris Waddle – but his next cameo catapulted him to national hero status.

With the match against Belgium a minute away from a penalty shoot-out, Platt, on for former Villa battler Steve McMahon after 71 minutes, fired England into the quarter-finals with one of the World Cup’s greatest goals.

He watched Paul Gascoigne’s floated free-kick drop over his shoulder before steering in an exquisite volley. The goal earned him a start in the quarter-final against Cameroon and he opened the scoring in a thrilling 3-2 win.

But despite starting the semi-final against Germany and scoring his penalty in the shoot-out, Platt could not prevent Robson’s England suffering more heartbreak.

With England failing to qualify for USA 94 – sadly, there was another Villa link with Graham Taylor in charge – it was 1998 before a Villa player was back in World Cup action with the Three Lions.

Southgate, fresh from his semi-final penalty shoot-out misery against Germany in Euro 96, was flying the flag for Villa at France 98. He played the first game as England kicked off with a 2-0 victory over Tunisia, but lost his place to Gary Neville for the 2-1 defeat to Romania and 2-0 victory over Colombia.

Southgate made another appearance, albeit as a substitute, when he replaced Graeme Le Saux in the dramatic last-16 clash against Argentina. But despite his 71st minute introduction he was unable to stop the Three Lions crashing out after extra-time and penalties.

By the time the 2002 World Cup finals ticked round Sven Goran Eriksson was in charge of England and Vassell was one of his favourite players.

He played 73 minutes of the 1-1 draw against Sweden before being replaced by Joe Cole. He lost his place to Emile Heskey as a David Beckham penalty beat Argentina in the second game.

Vassell came on as a 77th minute substitute for Michael Owen in the 0-0 draw against Nigeria.

The Birmingham-born forward did not leave the bench as England swept aside Denmark 3-0 in the first knockout match. He also replaced Owen 78 minutes into the 2-1 quarter final defeat to Brazil.

Read the article on Birmingham Post

Aston Villa poised for most players ever in England World Cup squad

Aston Villa are poised to have more England representatives at South Africa 2010 next month than they have boasted in any of the previous tournaments in the World Cup’s 80-year history.

James Milner, Emile Heskey and Stephen Warnock are still in contention for a place on the plane when Fabio Capello trims his provisional 30-man group to a final 23 on Tuesday.

And even if one of the trio misses the cut – with Warnock the most likely victim – then Villa still stand to eclipse their previous tally of claret and blues in a Three Lions’ World Cup squad.

Remarkably, our national team has never featured more than one Villa player at a time at football’s most prestigious tournament.

For the first 52 years of the World Cup, which began in 1930, Villa did not have a single representative, although in fairness to the club, England did not even enter the competition until 1950.

Peter Withe was the first to get a call-up, but he failed to kick a ball, while Steve Hodge, David Platt, Gareth Southgate and Darius Vassell are the only Villa lions to pull on the famous Three Lions shirt on the game’s biggest stage.

Less than a month earlier the wristband-wearing striker was the king of the continent when his winner secured Villa’s historic European Cup final triumph over Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

But Withe was restricted to a watching brief in 1982, as Ron Greenwood’s England beat France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait before goalless draws with Spain and West Germany cost them a semi-final place.

Having waited for more than half-a-century to see Villa’s first World Cup player, the claret and blues only had to wait another four years for the second.

By that time, however, Steve Hodge had irreparably damaged his relationship with the Villa Park faithful by touting for a transfer during Villa’s depressing relegation from the First Division.

Even so, Hodge was the first player from the club to play in the World Cup as Bobby Robson’s team made it to the quarter-finals.

He was a 79th minute substitute for Bryan Robson in the 1-0 defeat to Portugal and replaced the skipper after just four minutes of the goalless draw with Morocco.

With Robson ruled out with an ongoing shoulder problem, Hodge started the next three games including 3-0 wins over Poland and Paraguay and the infamous 2-1 last-eight defeat to Argentina.

He even played an unwitting part in one of the most controversial moments in World Cup history when he deflected Jorge Valdano’s cross and Diego Maradona punched the ball in.

The goalscoring midfielder’s call up meant Villa were represented for their third successive World Cup. Like Hodge, Platt had to rely on an injury to captain Bryan Robson for his first involvement in the tournament, stepping off the bench in the second group game – a scoreless stalemate with Holland.

Platt was back on the bench for the 1-0 victory over Egypt – this time replacing Chris Waddle – but his next cameo catapulted him to national hero status.

With the match against Belgium a minute away from a penalty shoot-out, Platt, on for former Villa battler Steve McMahon after 71 minutes, fired England into the quarter-finals with one of the World Cup’s greatest goals.

He watched Paul Gascoigne’s floated free-kick drop over his shoulder before steering in an exquisite volley. The goal earned him a start in the quarter-final against Cameroon and he opened the scoring in a thrilling 3-2 win.

But despite starting the semi-final against Germany and scoring his penalty in the shoot-out, Platt could not prevent Robson’s England suffering more heartbreak.

With England failing to qualify for USA 94 – sadly, there was another Villa link with Graham Taylor in charge – it was 1998 before a Villa player was back in World Cup action with the Three Lions.

Southgate, fresh from his semi-final penalty shoot-out misery against Germany in Euro 96, was flying the flag for Villa at France 98. He played the first game as England kicked off with a 2-0 victory over Tunisia, but lost his place to Gary Neville for the 2-1 defeat to Romania and 2-0 victory over Colombia.

Southgate made another appearance, albeit as a substitute, when he replaced Graeme Le Saux in the dramatic last-16 clash against Argentina. But despite his 71st minute introduction he was unable to stop the Three Lions crashing out after extra-time and penalties.

By the time the 2002 World Cup finals ticked round Sven Goran Eriksson was in charge of England and Vassell was one of his favourite players.

He played 73 minutes of the 1-1 draw against Sweden before being replaced by Joe Cole. He lost his place to Emile Heskey as a David Beckham penalty beat Argentina in the second game.

Vassell came on as a 77th minute substitute for Michael Owen in the 0-0 draw against Nigeria.

The Birmingham-born forward did not leave the bench as England swept aside Denmark 3-0 in the first knockout match. He also replaced Owen 78 minutes into the 2-1 quarter final defeat to Brazil.

Read the article on Birmingham Post

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