Return of Earn

DAVID CUFFLEY City striker Robert Earnshaw returns to the international fold this weekend - eager to make up for lost time and keep his country's slender European Championship hopes alive.


City striker Robert Earnshaw returns to the international fold this weekend - eager to make up for lost time and keep his country's slender European Championship hopes alive.

Earnshaw hopes to be in the Wales starting line-up for tomorrow's friendly against New Zealand at Wrexham (3pm), which serves as a warm-up for the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier at home to the Czech Republic a week later.

The 26-year-old has declared himself fit and ready to pull on the red jersey again after missing three months of the season following a groin operation, but re-appearing in the last five matches of the Canaries' Coca-Cola Championship campaign.

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Despite Earnshaw's long absence, only three players bettered his Championship tally of 19 goals for the season, and he would dearly love to continue that form for John Toshack's side, starting with a fruitful afternoon against the Kiwis at the Racecourse Ground.

He said: “I think I will be playing and hopefully it will be a good day for us. I don't really know much about New Zealand. It's more of a friendly to prepare for the Czech game. We've got to win and get ready for next week.”

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Wales are currently fifth in Group D, seven points adrift of the top three after winning just two of their first five qualifying matches. Earnshaw played in the first three group matches, scoring in the 3-1 home win over Cyprus in October, but missed the two games in March, a defeat by the Republic of Ireland and victory over San Marino.

He knows that defeat by the Czechs at the Millennium Stadium a week tomorrow would virtually end their slim chances of qualifying for next year's finals.

He said: “We've been up and down and had a few bad results and struggled a bit, but right now we have nothing to lose.

“If we lose, it looks as if we are definitely out so we have to try to win the game and see where we end up.

“We are playing at the Millennium. which is bound to lift the whole squad. It's a great stadium.

“We are professional players, we don't want to lose and we want to put on a show as much as possible for the nation.”

His fitness, he said, was no problem after maintaining his recovery programme with Wales.

He said: “I'm doing the same things I've been doing for the last three or for months, nothing new, just carrying on with what I have been doing with strengthening work, endurance work.

“I was always hoping to be back as quickly as possible. I had never been out that long before with injury.

“Everything has gone well. We met up this week for training and I'm looking forward to the game.”

While Earnshaw bids to add to his 32 caps and 12 goals for his country, he is also heartened by news from Carrow Road of fellow striker Dion Dublin's new one-year contract.

Earnshaw's injury and Dublin's defensive duties limited their opportunities to team up in attack for City last season, but they could yet do so at the start of next season.

He said: “It's brilliant. I spoke to Dion yesterday. He's more than happy he's signed. His only concern was whether his family would be happy with him being away.

“I'm really glad. He's a good friend of mine. We get on so well off the pitch and the more you play with someone, the better the understanding and the easier it becomes.

“He's great to play with. He's been in the game 20 years, he's done it all and it's good for the whole squad.”

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