LEIGHTON BAINES is determined to take his chance for England this week – and remains convinced he can realise his international ambitions while at Everton FC.
With first-choice left-back Ashley Cole sidelined through an ankle injury, Baines is expected to line-up for his country in their opening World Cup qualifier in Moldova tomorrow.
Remarkably, the 27-year-old has yet to make a competitive start for his country despite having made his debut back in March 2010 and been part of the squad for Euro 2012.
The Everton defender’s seven international starts, the most recent of which came in the win over Italy in Berne last month, have all come in friendly matches.
And of being given an opportunity in a competitive match, Baines said: “It doesn’t feel that different but, for me, it’s playing for England which is something I don’t get to do that often or as often as I’d like.
“So, when you do get a chance, even if it’s in a friendly, they are as important as the other games so it doesn’t feel that different the fact it’s a qualifier.”
Cole may yet recover from his injury in time for the second match of England’s qualifying double header at Wembley against Ukraine on Tuesday.
And Baines – who could be joined by Everton team-mate Phil Jagielka in the starting XI against Moldova – admits it will be tough to permanently dislodge the Chelsea man.
“For me, personally, you have to believe (you can stay in the team),” he said.
“Hopefully if I get the chance to play then I can do well enough for that to be a possibility. It’s difficult because of what Ash brings to the table and for me it’s just going to be one or two games really.”
With Everton sidestepping their usual slow start to the season, confidence is high among David Moyes’s squad despite last weekend’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
And Baines believes the Goodison outfit’s continued improvement can help bolster his international career.
“You want to get to the highest level you can and I keep doing my best in the hope that that comes,” he said.
“The main thing in football at club level is the Champions League which is always going to be an aim and an ambition and if you can do that it strengthens your chances at international level as well.
“That’s one of the main ones and obviously to win a trophy at some point. We’ve had a couple of good cup runs at Everton. We lost in a cup final a few years ago and lost in a semi-final to Liverpool so we know it’s not beyond us.”
While Manchester United were linked in some quarters with a move for Baines during the transfer window, there was no official interest in the player from Old Trafford.
And Baines said: “I’ve never been one to rock the boat, I appreciate the position I’m in in life and I love what I do. At the same time you do have to have that ambition because it doesn’t last long and, before you know it, it will be over.
“The ambition for Everton is to finish as high as we can and if we can build on what we’ve done so far we have a chance of getting back towards European football.”
Baines added: “Over the last few seasons, we’ve tended to lose one of our assets each summer, whether it be Joleon, Mikel Arteta when he left, Steven Pienaar and whoever else.
“This season we’ve not only managed to keep the squad together but we’ve added really good players to it.
“Not only in this window but in January as well. Darron Gibson, Jelavic, Pienaar has come back to us as well.”