Ashley Cole's landmark cap wins over Wembley sceptics

LONDON (AFP) - After spending much of his England career cast in the unwanted role of pantomime villain, Ashley Cole was finally able to savour a more appealing moment on the international stage as he won his 100th cap in Wednesday's 2-1 friendly victory against Brazil.

Cole is only the seventh player to reach a century of appearances for England, joining the elite group of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright and Peter Shilton.

But the 31-year-old is regarded by many as a symbol of all that is wrong with modern football's 'greed is good' culture and his acrimonious transfer from Arsenal to Chelsea, not to mention numerous negative headlines about his private life, have made him the Wembley crowd's whipping boy whenever England struggle.

Ever since Cole revealed in his autobiography that he had been horrified when Arsenal only offered him £55,000-a-week during contract negotiations, the left-back has been known as 'Cashley' to fans who often brandish bank notes at him when their team face Chelsea and subject him to ugly taunts.

Yet remarkably Cole's landmark achievement seemed to soften even the usually unforgiving Wembley faithful.

For once he received a fairly warm reception and, wearing a pair of commemorative boots to mark the occasion, the Chelsea star went onto underline his class during a 45-minute appearance against the five-time world champions.

While Cole has had to endure many jibes from the stands, there are far fewer critics of his on-field performances and his admirers point to the night Cole subdued Cristiano Ronaldo with a sublime display during a Euro 2004 quarter-final against Portugal to back their claims that he is the world's best left-back.

Stuart Pearce, who won 78 caps at left-back for England and is now his country's Under-21 coach, is adamant Cole is the best Englishman ever to play the position and Jose Mourinho, the man who brought Cole to Chelsea, agrees with that assessment.

Pearce's praise resonates with Cole, who said: "Until the age of 16 I was a striker and was not interested in people at the back, but whenever I saw Stuart Pearce's passion for England, he was someone I wanted to be like."

The defender, who made his senior international debut against Albania in March 2001, also retains the support of England manager Roy Hodgson, who continues to select him ahead of Everton's impressive Leighton Baines.

"I can't make judgements on the best celebrated or least celebrated player with 100 caps, but we are definitely celebrating it," Hodgson said.

"It's a wonderful achievement and it's to be noted, too, that he has started in all of those games and that's not to be sniffed at." Hodgson's faith in Cole is understandable given the left-back's remarkable consistency.

Even Brazilian talents of the calibre of Neymar and Ronaldinho found it hard to make any headway against Cole before was replaced by Baines at half-time.

Once again Cole had proved his worth. Whether that will be enough to silence the cynics in future remains to be seen.

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