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Walcott axed from England squad

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal winger Theo Walcott was the surprise omission from England's final 23-man squad for the World Cup finals announced by coach Fabio Capello on Tuesday.

Sunderland striker Darren Bent, second highest English goalscorer in the Premier League last season, was also left out but Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry and Tottenham Hotspur defender Ledley King were named after injury problems.

Chelsea's Joe Cole, who returned to the England side against Japan on Sunday after an 18-month absence, was also included.

Walcott said in a statement to Sky Sports News: "I am very disappointed not to be included in the squad going out to South Africa, but completely respect Mr Capello's decision.

"I would like to wish the team the best of luck and hope they have a really successful tournament."

Walcott, 21, who has won 11 caps, would have been the youngest member of the party as he was when he was included, but did not play, as a 17-year-old in 2006.

Although he has started England's last three friendlies, he had an injury-disrupted season with his club and failed to reproduce his best form.

He has scored three goals for England, all in the 4-1 win over Croatia in a qualifier nearly two years ago.

Capello opted for Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips and Tottenham's Aaron Lennon for the wide midfield roles.

FITNESS TEST

Barry passed a fitness test after recovering from a sprained ankle and was included as the principal holding midfielder but six other players were cut from Capello's original 30-man list.

Uncapped Tottenham defender Michael Dawson and Leighton Baines of Everton, midfielders Tom Huddlestone of Tottenham, Adam Johnson of Manchester City and Scott Parker of West Ham United were all left out.

Stephen Warnock got the nod as the reserve left-back even though he has not been called off the bench for England's last four games.

Bent lost out to Emile Heskey as a possible partner for Wayne Rooney in attack, even though Bent scored 24 league goals for Sunderland last season and Heskey just three for Aston Villa.

England depart for the June 11-July 11 tournament on Wednesday and after one more low-key training game against a local side next week, will play their first Group C match against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Robert Green (West Ham United), Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth)

Defenders: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham Hotspur), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham United), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa)

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), James Milner (Aston Villa), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)

Forwards: Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

(Editing by Ed Osmond)