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21 Jun 2006 11:52
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s worst fears have been realised after the cruel injury to Michael Owen that has seriously depleted England’s already threadbare attacking options.
Owen is expected to be ruled out of the World Cup later on Wednesday after twisting a knee in the first minute of England’s 2-2 draw with Sweden at the Rhein Energie Stadion.
That leaves Eriksson with only three strikers for the remainder of the tournament—a not yet fully fit Wayne Rooney, Liverpool’s Peter Crouch and untested Arsenal teenager Theo Walcott.
If Eriksson’s risky decision to take only four strikers to Germany was the selection equivalent of gambling everything on red, Owen’s sad exit was the moment it came up black.
A squad overloaded with midfielders, who are unlikely to play a significant part in England’s campaign—neither Michael Carrick nor Jermaine Jenas have yet kicked a ball in anger—always looked unbalanced.
Now Eriksson’s critics are united in a chorus of “I told you so” as England prepare to tackle Ecuador in the last 16 on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Eriksson put on a brave face in the immediate aftermath of England’s draw, insisting that his side have enough options in midfield as well as attack to provide a reliable source of goals.
“If you talk about other options, we have many players who can take that second striker role,” said Eriksson.
“We have Theo Walcott, who we haven’t seen yet, we have Joe Cole, we have Steven Gerrard. Both of them scored fantastic goals.
So I’m not that worried about it at all.”
Publicly, Eriksson is still defending his decision to pick the 17-year-old Walcott, who he has never seen play.
Eriksson is confident that Walcott will be able to cope with the pressure if and when he decides to use him.
“I think he can handle it,” Eriksson said. “The weeks he’s been together with us have been fantastic for him.
“He’s getting better and better, with more and more confidence, he talks more, wants the ball more and is scoring fantastic goals in training.”
Privately, however, Eriksson will be praying that the talismanic Rooney can continue his remarkable comeback from a broken metatarsal and make a full return to fitness for the rest of the World Cup.
The 20-year-old played 67 minutes against Sweden and immediately gave England’s forward play a sense of menace and guile that had been sorely missing in lacklustre wins over Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago.
Rooney’s presence was a constant threat to the Swedish defence, who looked uncomfortable whenever the Manchester United player had the ball at his feet.
In keeping with his ferociously competitive temperament, Rooney looked disgusted to have been taken off, hurling his boots to the ground and thumping the dugout in anger.
Eriksson was not bothered by the display of petulance from Rooney however.
“I asked him after the game and he said it was because he was disappointed with his performance,” Eriksson said. “He felt he could have played better in the second half. It’s not a problem at all. I think we did well to take him off.”
Eriksson also said Rooney is not far from being able to complete a full match and could have stayed on the field for more of the Sweden game if necessary.
“Rooney could have played longer,” Eriksson said. “But it was only his second game since the injury, his first playing from the start.
“I can’t risk overworking him because I will miss him and we need him. He will get more and more minutes on the pitch, maybe 90 next time. He will get better and better. I’m happy about the Rooney situation but I’m sorry about Michael Owen.”
England captain David Beckham is also adamant that the team’s lack of attacking options up front is over-stated.
“We’ve players right through the team who can score goals, even defenders, That’s the good part,” said Beckham. “The unfortunate part is Michael’s injury.
“Some people are negative, but I think the fans back home who know the team and know the players know what we can do. At some point it will click and we need that very soon, but we are very positive about this.”—AFP
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