LONDON (AP) — Theo Walcott was omitted from England's final 23-man World Cup squad Tuesday, four years after he was a surprise choice to go to soccer's biggest tournament.
The Arsenal winger has long said that he felt he did not deserve to go to the 2006 World Cup when, as a 17-year-old forward who had yet to play a Premier League game, he was selected ahead of more experienced players.
Four years later, England coach Fabio Capello has opted for the more seasoned Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips ahead of a player who never made it onto the field in Germany and has struggled this season.
Defensive midfielder Gareth Barry was included in the party that heads to South Africa on Wednesday despite an ankle injury that could still rule him out of England's opening group match against the United States on June 12.
The seven players dropped following a 30-man training camp were Walcott, Darren Bent, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Scott Parker, Michael Dawson and Leighton Baines.
"I am very disappointed not to be included in the squad going out to South Africa, but completely respect Mr. Capello's decision," Walcott said in a statement on Arsenal's website. "I would like to wish the team the best of luck and hope they have a really successful tournament."
Bent's omission means that Emile Heskey will go to a second World Cup despite starting fewer than half of Aston Villa's Premier League matches this season.
Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe are the other strikers on a squad featuring three goalkeepers, eight defenders and eight midfielders.
Bent, who scored 25 goals this season for Sunderland, and Defoe were left out four years ago in favor of Walcott.
Walcott looked certain to make it onto the World Cup squad in September 2008 when he scored a hat trick against Croatia to lead England to a 4-1 win in what commentators had said would be its toughest qualifying match.
England has won all 11 games in which Walcott has played but he has been hindered by injury this season and started just 12 Premier League matches.
Walcott was included as one of four strikers on England's squad four years ago after a high-profile transfer to Arsenal. He never made it onto the field despite injury to Michael Owen and a red card to Rooney in the quarterfinal exit to Portugal.
Cole's return to fitness and form in Saturday's 2-1 friendly win over Japan appear to have unseated Walcott from the squad, while Johnson's late entry to international soccer may have counted against him.
Johnson joined Manchester City in January and made his international debut with five minutes of action in last week's 3-1 friendly win over Mexico.
Wright-Phillips has scored six goals in 31 international appearances and, with former captain David Beckham out injured, will compete for a wide midfield place with Aaron Lennon and James Milner.
Wright-Phillips and Lennon can both play on either wing with more ease than Walcott.
Milner and Michael Carrick are in the squad and can cover for Barry, who has been out for a month with an ankle injury and may not be fit until the second group match against Algeria on June 18.
David James, Robert Green and Joe Hart are the three goalkeepers, with Ledley King included ahead of fellow Tottenham defender Dawson despite a chronic knee condition that requires rest between matches.
James is among 12 survivors from the 23-man squad picked by Sven-Goran Eriksson. The others are Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, captain Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Jamie Carragher, Rooney, Carrick, Lennon and Crouch.
Goalkeepers: David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham), Joe Hart (Manchester City).
Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa).
Midfielders: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), James Milner (Aston Villa), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Gareth Barry (Manchester City).
Strikers: Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham).