Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sven's Big Task Is to Restore Our Morale

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sven's Big Task Is to Restore Our Morale

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

IN matters of sporting relations with Australia, football remains one of the few areas where England retain the gloating rights.

We've suffered our share of humiliations on the cricket pitch, the tennis court and in the swimming pool and it's ironic that organising the defence of one of England's last bastions of sporting supremacy should rest with an amiable Swede.

Being a neutral, the urbane Sven-Goran Eriksson is free of the traditional baggage that generally fuels any sporting confrontation between the two nations. He wants to beat them for no reason other than he wants to beat them. The fact that they're Aussies doesn't enter the equation.

But Australia's first visit to football's motherland is a low-key friendly that will disappear into the mists of time - unless England lose.

Then, speculation about Eriksson's long-term future will undoubtedly intensify while, in the shorter term, he'll have to answer some very difficult questions about his preparations for the European Championship double header with Liechtenstein and Turkey.

In real terms, tonight's Upton Park clash is about recovering confidence after the hugely disappointing performance in the 2-2 draw with Macedonia at Southampton four months ago.

The two points dropped means that the Turks, having played a game more, are already five points ahead of England in the race for the one automatic qualifying place.

Unfortunately, Eriksson feels that he cannot treat this warm-up match as seriously as his predecessors might have done. To appease the big clubs, he has agreed to field two different teams. The first-half team will be the one Eriksson has in mind for European Championship duty next month, though Chelsea's Frank Lampard will have to pull up a few trees in midfield tonight to book his place.

"I want to take something from the first 45 minutes because our performance will be the base for the next qualifying matches," said Eriksson. …

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