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19 Jun 2006 10:53
England have vowed to end their 38-year winless streak against Sweden in Cologne on Tuesday—even if the reward is a World Cup second-round showdown with host nation Germany.
Fixture scheduling has left England heading into their final Group B match with the identity of their last 16 opponents in their own hands.
With Germany and Ecuador playing earlier in the day to determine the winners and runners-up in Group A, England will know exactly what they have to do against Sweden to avoid a titanic collision with the Germans.
But England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson insists, however, that his team, who have already qualified for the last 16 after wins over Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago, are only thinking about beating Sweden and topping the group.
“If you win the group, there are a lot of advantages,” said Eriksson. “You have one more day off than your opponents all the way through to the final.
So we want to win the group.”
While a draw would be enough to give England top spot, Eriksson has never beaten Sweden in three attempts during his five-year reign, and would dearly like to see England record their first victory over his homeland since 1968 before he steps down.
“Thirty-eight years—that’s a long time,” Eriksson said.
With victory in mind, Eriksson will hand a first World Cup start to fit-again Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, who resumes his attacking partnership with Michael Owen.
Rooney’s appearance as a second-half substitute, along with winger Aaron Lennon, gave England a huge lift against Trinidad last week and helped them secure a 2-0 victory.
“We are a different team with Rooney,” Eriksson said. “He’s a great linking player, he holds the ball up, which gives the team time to move out of defence. He’s fantastic at everything when he’s 100%.”
While England’s performances so far have been poor, Eriksson is confident his team play better when they face better opposition, and believes that Sweden will provide a more accurate gauge of their form.
“We need to play better, of course we do,” said Eriksson. “But we will play better. Against Sweden it will be a completely different game if you compare that to Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago.”
Rooney’s return in place of Peter Crouch is one of two changes Eriksson is expected to make to his starting line-up.
Steven Gerrard, who is on a yellow card, is likely to be rested in order to ensure his availability for the beginning of the knockout rounds, meaning a start for Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves.
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher will continue to deputise for injured right back Gary Neville, who is struggling with a calf strain.
Sweden, meanwhile, are sweating on an injury to Juventus striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who suffered a groin strain during the 1-0 victory over Paraguay.
Ibrahimovic is one of only a handful of players in the Swedish squad plying their trade in one of Europe’s major leagues, but Lars Lagerback’s men will not be intimidated by England’s star-studded line-up.
Eleven of the squad have experience of playing in the English Premiership, but only Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg and Arsenal’s Freddie Ljungberg have become established stars.
Mattias Jonson, who spent a year with Norwich before their relegation from the top-flight in 2005, said Sweden’s record over England in internationals speaks for itself.
“Some of our players have done well in England, others less so. I don’t know if that has any significance,” said the Djurgarden forward. “But we’ve always been difficult to beat when we play England.”
Former Everton midfielder Tobias Linderoth said the lack of star quality is irrelevant when compared with how the squad gels as a unit.
“Those who perhaps don’t understand much about football, and just look at which clubs players are with, will say England have a better team,” Linderoth said. “But if you look at the team as a whole, then we’re just as good.
“We were better than them at the last World Cup and we’re not going into this match with any fear or concern. England have done what’s expected of them so far, but we have a lot of energy and belief in our own play,” he added.—Sapa-AFP
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