The Ukraine forward has started just two league games this season, and there are, for the first time, suggestions that his international career may be coming to an end, according to

Shevchenko was left out of Ukraine`s starting line-up for the qualifier against Belarus last September, but that could be explained by the need to have him fresh for the trip to Kazakhstan four days later. For the coach Oleksiy Mykhailychenko to omit him against England would be another matter entirely.

The suspicion is that a place will be found for him, but his snappish response to questioning about his lack of pitch-time suggests he is beginning to feel the pressure.

"Once again these questions!" he said. "As for me, such things have never influenced my play for the national team and I hope that it will be the same this time."

There is justification to his words. He may have managed only nine league goals over the past three seasons, but Shevchenko`s form for Ukraine held up remarkably well. When he was finally introduced against Belarus with quarter of an hour remaining, he converted the injury-time penalty that decided the game. He scored again in Almaty the following Wednesday.

"He will score a point against the sceptics who have covered him in dirt," the former national coach Josef Szabo insists, but a lacklustre performance in the 0-0 draw against Croatia in November raised serious doubts.

The issue has been brought into sharper focus by Andriy Voronin`s comments after being left on the bench throughout that game that he would have been better off spending the time with his new-born son.

His case has been strengthened by his recent form for the Bundesliga leaders Hertha Berlin, for whom he has scored seven goals in his last seven games.

Liverpool are believed to be willing to accept an offer of ?4million to make his loan move permanent. It is unclear, though, whether Hertha could match his present salary of ?4m.

Leaving out Shevchenko would not only signal the end of the frontline career of the greatest player of an independent Ukraine, but it would also sever the final tie with the era of Valeriy Lobanovskyi.

Shevchenko is the last survivor of the great final generation of the state-funded academies that also included Sergei Rebrov and Oleh Luzhny.

Mykhailychenko, meanwhile, played for Lobanovskyi with Dynamo Kyiv and the USSR, served as his assistant as Dynamo and succeeded him on his death in 2002.

The two league championships he subsequently won were seen almost as posthumous titles for Lobanovskyi, and as soon as things went wrong, of course, it was seen as his fault for steering away from the Lobanovskyian path.

Ukraine is beginning to move on, and the fruits of the new club academies are starting to emerge. Six of the squad that arrived in St Albans on Wednesday were part of the Ukraine squad that reached the final of the European Under-21 Championship in 2006.

Shakhtar Donetsk`s Dmytro Chyhrynsky is established at centre-back, and only injury denies the Dynamo Kyiv forward Artem Kravets his place in the squad. For now, though, Mykhailychenko will probably maintain the link with the past.

Given the position of the Dynamo Kyiv playmaker Oleksandr Aliev seems secure, that means Mykhailychenko either making a direct choice between Shevchenko and Voronin, or abandoning the lone striker system he would surely prefer.

"Shevchenko has great experience, a great desire to play," he said. "It will be much easier for the young players we are bringing in to develop if he is alongside them."

Shevchenko certainly seems to expect to be playing, and is relishing the prospect of a first outing at Wembley, having missed Chelsea`s victory over Manchester United in the 2007 FA Cup final.

"A player who dreams of his best match should dream of doing it at Wembley," he said.

"The atmosphere is really impressive and England are one of the best teams in the world. They have very strong players, real stars, and therefore we must meet them with collective play and commitment. Everybody has to play not at 100 per cent but at 150 per cent of their ability."

The question, though, is really what percentage of his past ability Shevchenko can muster these days.