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Beckham faces big fitness test in friendly

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This weekend potentially is one of the most crucial of the English Premiership season, but several of Britain's top journalists will be nowhere near Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United.

Instead, they will be nearly 5,000 miles from home watching a Major League Soccer preseason friendly at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

David Beckham's final run-out before the England team is selected for its international friendly against France has captured the attention of the national scribes, head coach Fabio Capello and the UK public. In order to assess Beckham's fitness, condition and form, Capello has dispatched his trusted right-hand man Franco Baldini to watch the Los Angeles Galaxy's game against FC Dallas on Saturday.

Back in England, fans will be watching with interest to see whether the 32-year-old midfielder will finally be given the chance to win his 100th cap and become only the fifth player in history to do so.

Last week, Capello was taken by surprise when he held an organized face-to-face meeting with several key supporters groups. Sources close to the Italian suggest he underestimated the strength of the public's yearning for Beckham to be included in the squad.

A tough and resolute character, Capello is not the type of man to be swayed by armchair experts. But with the nation's soccer morale at a low point following the failure to reach the 2008 European Championships, he must appreciate the need to bring back the feel-good factor.

The will-he-or-won't-he saga surrounding Beckham and his former boss at Real Madrid has stirred up enough attention to warrant chief writers from popular tabloids The Sun and the Daily Mirror, plus the Daily Telegraph, to abandon the English domestic scene for the weekend.

"It should be no surprise that the leading journalists in England are following an intriguing battle between the new England manager and the most iconic sportsman of our generation," said Aidan Magee, a staff writer for the News of the World, England's biggest selling Sunday newspaper.

"Most people want to see Beckham get his 100th cap but many fear that Capello isn't interested in gestures. However, Beckham never knows when he is beaten.

"The issue could bug Capello like a cabinet minister who has been cast aside to the back benches by a new Prime Minister. The outcome of this tussle could define a new era."

Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit is another man who would like to see Beckham included against France in Paris on March 26, even though that contest comes just three days before the L.A. club's MLS opener against the Colorado Rapids.

Gullit has been impressed by what he saw from his most famous player on the Galaxy's preseason tour of Hawaii and Asia and feels Beckham is ready to step back on to the international stage.

"He is fit and that is the main thing," Gullit said. "I am very happy with how he played and how he looks in games.

"David is very motivated. He is a professional and he loves this game. I would be very happy to see him get his 100th cap. It is only a few days before the start of the season but it would be very good for him and I think he deserves it."

Baldini's assessment of Beckham will be swiftly and meticulously regaled to Capello. If the friendly games of the past month are anything to go by, he will report that Beckham looks to be in good shape and appears to have a point to prove. Then the final decision will be Capello's.

A certain high-profile player, an MLS club and a curious nation will all await it with interest.