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MAROUANE FELLAINI admits he has been impressed at how quickly Kevin Mirallas has adapted to the Premier League.
The Everton pair have been international team-mates since they were first involved in the Belgium set-up as youngsters, and Fellaini is a big admirer of his compatriot’s goal-scoring ability.
Mirallas, 25, has been in impressive form for the Toffees in recent weeks since recovering from a protracted hamstring problem earlier in the season.
The summer signing from Olympiacos had a goal wrongly disallowed for off-side during last Saturday’s 2-0 win against Manchester City, and Fellaini can’t wait to line-up alongside him for Belgium in their two World Cup qualifying fixtures with Macedonia next week.
“Everybody knows he (Mirallas) has quality,” said Fellaini. “He can score goals and is an important player for Everton. Every game he can contribute and I think he has. I hope for him that he keeps going like this.
“He can dribble and is involved in the action, which is important for forward players. He can score goals and takes good corners, so he is important for the team.
“Of course there is more to come from him.”
Belgium have not participated in a major tournament for over a decade having failed to reach the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, along with the 2004, 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
However, this time around Marc Wilmots’ team are in pole position to qualify for next summer’s extravaganza in Brazil.
Belgium currently top Group A on goal difference – having recouped 10 points from their first four fixtures.
With second-placed Croatia – and Blues striker Nikica Jelavic – facing tough games against Serbia and Scotland, Fellaini says it is important Belgium record maximum points in their coming games.
“We have a lot of good players now for Belgium,” said the former Standard Liege midfielder.
“I think there are 10 players playing in England. All the time in Belgium the talk is about the Premier League.
“We have a good team and we have two important games which I hope to win.
“We have some good young players and everybody wants to keep going so we can go to the World Cup.”
JAN MUCHA is playing for his Everton future as he bids to build on his impressive display against Manchester City, says former Blues keeper Thomas Myhre.
The Slovakian goalkeeper has been thrust into the first-team frame after regular number one Tim Howard broke two bones in his back.
Mucha joined the Blues from Legia Warsaw in summer 2010, but has had to contend with life as a second-string regular as Howard’s consistent form left no opportunities for Premier League action.
The 30-year-old only made his top flight debut during Everton’s 3-1 win over Reading on March 2, and followed that steady start by conceding three during the FA Cup quarter-final debacle against Wigan. However, he was on fine form to keep a clean sheet against the reigning champions on Saturday, and his team-mates were fulsome in their praise afterwards.
Mucha’s contract expires in the summer and former Blues keeper Myhre – who was also faced with the tough task of replacing a key man when he succeeded Neville Southall as Goodison number one in 1997 – believes it is a pivotal time for the Slovak.
The former Norway international said: “Whatever happens between now and the summer Jan has to play as well as possible to make a statement.
“It is not easy being a deputy sometimes and Tim Howard has done ever so well for the club. The thing for Jan is that Tim has hardly ever been injured.
“Tim performs well season in, season out and it’s been hard to see how he could be rested.
“David Moyes said earlier this season that maybe he needed another keeper to keep Tim on his toes, but Jan has done well since he came in.
“He made some very good saves against City and I’m sure it was a relief for him.
“Maybe Jan will be thinking about playing so well he gives the manager something to think about when Tim is fit.
“I played 80 or so games for Everton but then got injured and found it very difficult to get my place back when I recovered.
“It will be interesting to see what Moyes does. Everton haven’t kept as many clean sheets as I’m sure they would have liked to this season.
“I’m certainly not saying that’s Tim’s fault but Jan will be wanting to make his mark.”
Meanwhile, Darron Gibson wants his team-mates to return from international duty ready to chase a place in Europe.
“I think we have been great all season,” said the 25-year-old. “(The FA Cup defeat to Wigan) was a bad game for us but against Manchester City we bounced back and showed what kind of team we really are.
“I loved that game. I always enjoy playing at Goodison and getting three points makes it even better.
“We’ll kick on from that performance and hopefully get as many points as we can.
“We’ve shown what we can do.”
EVERTON U18s face a potential fixture pile-up after the international break, warns Kevin Sheedy.
The academy side face AFC Liverpool in the Liverpool Senior Cup on Monday, before a lull in action when many players jet off to represent their countries.
However, action resumes with potentially three games a week from April until the end of the season.
Sheedy said: “I’m not thinking ahead of the FA Youth Cup quarter-final against Norwich on April 5 but if we get through that we’d have plenty of games in a short time period.”
HIGHLY-RATED Everton midfielder John Lundstram will extend his loan stay with Doncaster Rovers until the end of the season.
The England Under-19s international has spent the last month helping League One high-flyers Rovers in their promotion push, making six appearances and helping them to top spot in the table.
Rovers boss Brian Flynn revealed earlier in the month that he was hopeful of keeping hold of Lundstram, 19, for longer after being impressed with the England U-18 international since acquiring his services.
Flynn said: “John has a great variety of passing and it is as good as you see from a young lad.
“He is hungry for the football and has no fear. He just wants the ball – he is hungry to do well and also has loads of energy.”
A World Cup qualifying match against San Marino should not cause too many headaches for an England manager, but Roy Hodgson has a dilemma over just how much cotton wool to use tomorrow in protecting his players in advance of a stiffer test against Montenegro.
The players who are one yellow card away from a suspension — Ashley Cole, Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Jermain Defoe — are not expected to play against San Marino in Serravalle, with Hodgson eager to ensure that a shortage of players, particularly in defence, is not exacerbated going into the game against Montenegro, the group H leaders, in Podgorica on Tuesday.
Leighton Baines is expected to start in preference to Cole at left back, but Hodgson has a tough decision to make in central defence after the withdrawals of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill. The option of playing Michael Carrick in a deeper role is being considered and, if Lescott is left out, the decision will be whether Chris Smalling, Steven Taylor or Steven Caulker plays alongside the Manchester United midfielder.
In addition, Hodgson must decide whether more experienced players such as Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker or Frank Lampard — and feasibly Wayne Rooney — should be preserved for the match in Podgorica. The expectation is that Gerrard, the captain, and Rooney will start, but that Hodgson will look to substitute them if, as hoped, England gain a comfortable lead.
Apart from Cahill, who has left the squad in the hope of rejoining if a knee injury clears up in time for the Montenegro match, all of England’s players participated fully in training at St George’s Park yesterday. They will train again this morning before a lunchtime charter flight from Birmingham to Rimini, after which they will train this evening at the stadium.
Having withdrawn from England’s World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro because they would disrupt his fitness and conditioning programme, Rio Ferdinand, the Manchester United centre half, will undertake a 15-hour round trip to Qatar to be a pundit on the game for Al Jazeera, it was reported last night.