You Do the Maths, Boss. . . England

Daily Mail (London), June 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

You Do the Maths, Boss. . . England


Byline: PAUL HAYWARD

A SUSPICION haunts England-watchers here in the sunlit forests of Germany.

It gnaws at their pleasure as Sven Goran Eriksson's men head to Nuremberg to confront a Caribbean minnow with a victory chalked on the board.

The hunch is that Eriksson endangered the World Cup campaign the day he wrote the names of four strikers on a sheet and carried it to London's Cafe Royal.

One had a broken metatarsal, one was coming back from injury, the third was still finding his way at international level and the fourth was a 17-year-old who had yet to kick a ball in the Premiership. The day Eriksson counted four fingers on his hand and ignored his thumb, England were condemned to shuffle their goalscoring resources in the face of a mathematical error.

From that numerical and strategic mistake, much illogicality has flowed, none of it quite so daft as Eriksson's decision to withdraw Michael Owen after 55 minutes of the 1-0 victory over Paraguay.

For almost a month now, the England coach has been saying Owen needs minutes on the pitch to sharpen his stiletto. Given that chance in Frankfurt on Saturday, Eriksson humiliated his most prolific striker by taking him off in favour of a novice winger who plays for Middlesbrough and then sending Joe Cole forward to play the link man or 'No 10'.

Cole performed admirably in that position but the point remains.

Owen was denied the one thing he needs to recover his prowess. Time.

To that you could also add a dash of faith. There are echoes here of Eriksson's impatience at Euro 2004, where Owen's early appearances were similarly curtailed.

Already there is a jerkiness about the substitutions. Already England are starting well before wilting.

Already they are giving the ball away cheaply and blaming the heat - a legitimate excuse for listlessness but not for passing the ball to an opponent.

Only a serial pessimist could dismiss their chances of winning this World Cup after a valuable but faintly ominous win which featured little of the rhythmic passing and ball retention of, say, Argentina in their match against the Ivory Coast.

Experience teaches you not to predict the end of the world after an opening game. If a nervy defence settles down and Owen and Rooney return to match-winning form, the dream could still survive these early doubts.

Watch the other superpowers, though, and you see that Eriksson's castle-dwellers are locked into their own culture. Their methodology still sets them apart from the crowd.

Steven Gerrard's passing from deep positions was majestic and David Beckham's deliveries from the right would disturb the gastric stability of any defender. Then there is Frank Lampard's fierce shooting from outside the penalty area and Joe Cole's trickery on the left. But already we have the sense that if England are successful in Berlin it will not be as a team of ball-hoggers who torment the opposition by stroking it around.

The potential faultlines are already showing in a victory that almost guarantees their qualification for the second round. Not on the points board, admittedly, but certainly in the realm of common sense.

The biggest infirmity of the lot?

Count to four, and there's your answer. …

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