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Stoke City (A) Wed 4 Mar 2015, 19:45, Barclays Premier League

by Daniel Alston @efc_danalston

Roy Hodgson says he now considers Leighton Baines to be the equal of Ashley Cole as he ponders the future of his England side.

Chelsea left-back Cole has been a mainstay in the position for the national team, but has faced competition from Everton's number three in recent seasons.

Baines has been a regular in one of the league's tightest Premier League defences since his arrival at Goodison Park in 2007 and has continued to exceed his own high standards this term.

Many stats showcase him as one of the most creative players in Europe in 2012/13, highlighting his offerings as far more than a typical defender.

A repertoire of stunning free-kicks, an unblemished penalty record and another long-range goal against West Brom on Wednesday have had football fans up and down the country again acknowledging his all-round game.

Cole is in line to win his 100th cap in the friendly against Brazil on Wednesday, but with two World Cup qualifiers in March, Hodgson admits he has a difficult decision over his preferred XI moving towards the tournament next year.

He said: "Leighton has nothing more to do – he has proved himself to me. He knows that he is capable of playing for England at left-back.

“And Ashley knows he is capable, too. He’s proved it with what will be 100 caps.

“It is a difficult one for me. In friendly matches, you can give them 45 ­minutes each.

“But there will come a time when both are fit and raring to go and we have an important match and both want to start.

“I will then have to disappoint one of them. They will have to fight it out. The competition between them will be fierce and I’ll have to make a decision.

“And when I make that decision, I will know if the player plays well and we win the game, I’ll be held as having made the right decision.

“But if we play badly and lose, I will have made the wrong decision.”

“Ashley will play on Wednesday – whether he plays the whole game, whether he plays half a game, whether he’ll start, that I’ll ­decide.

“If he is fit, he will play and get his 100th cap – without a doubt.

“If I’m honest, this is how it should be if you are manager of a top footballing nation.

“A country like ours should have a couple of good players in each position – Brazil certainly do."

Baines, Phil Jagielka and Leon Osman are all in England's squad to face Brazil on Wednesday 6 February. Keep an eye on for reports on the trio and other Blues on international duty.

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