LONDON - Michael Dawson began the season as Tottenham Hotspur's fourth choice centre-back. He hopes to end it with a place in Fabio Capello's England squad.
Injuries to club captain Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate have elevated the reliable Dawson up the pecking order and the 26-year-old is now one of the first names on Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp's team sheet.
Dawson, a combative central defender in the mould of Chelsea's John Terry, wears the captain's armband in the absence of King and has been a rock at the heart of the London club's rearguard as they pursue fourth spot in the Premier League and their first FA Cup triumph since 1991.
Provided he has fully recovered from an ankle injury he will almost certainly lead Tottenham out in the FA Cup semi-final against Portsmouth at Wembley on Sunday, the perfect setting to remind Capello of his qualities.
Terry and Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand are Capello's preferred central defenders and the Italian also looks set to pick West Ham United's Matthew Upson but he would want four specialists in that area and Dawson's impressive form for Tottenham has put hime in the frame.
It was no coincidence that Tottenham fell apart defensively at Sunderland last week when Dawson was missing after a run of five league wins in which they conceded just three goals.
"It would be a great achievement and playing for England is something I would love to do," Dawson, who made the squad under Capello's predecessor Steve McClaren, told reporters after coming through a training session on Friday.
"I will never give up on that. I was in quite a few squads when McClaren was manager but unfortunately I didn't get a cap. All I can do is keep playing well and we'll wait and see.
"I looked at the last squad for the friendly (against Egypt) and unfortunately I wasn't in it but there is still lots of football to be played this season.
"There is myself, Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka is back playing, wheoever it is I'm just going to concentrate on playing well for Tottenham and hopefully everything else will take care of itself.
"You have to put in good performances week in week out, if you don't you can forget about playing for England."
Dawson arrived at Tottenham in 2005 ater making 83 appearances for Nottingham Forest where he often partnered former England centre-back Des Walker.
He quickly made the first team and played all but one game in the 2006-07 season but the signing of Woodgate the following season and then Cameroon's Sebastien Bassong last summer left Dawson on the fringes of the first team.
However, since a recall to Premier League action in late September he has become a fixture in the side again and he is desperate for Tottenham to reclaim the fourth spot that could lead to Champions League football next season.
He still has painful memories of the May 2006 when a 2-1 defeat at West Ham United on the final day of the season cost Tottenham fourth place to bitter rivals Arsenal.
"A few years ago we missed out on the last day," he said. "You look at the playrs we have in the squad we are certainly capable of playing in the Champions League.
"It's where you want to play. I watched Lionel Messi the other night and he was fantastic. You would have nightmares leading up to playing against him but it would be fantastic week in week out testing yourself against world class players."
Should Tottenham reach the FA Cup final and finish in the top four, Dawson's dream of a World Cup place could come true and a first-hand view of Messi could come sooner than expected.comments