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Nobody is proclaiming a revolution, but Jermain Defoe's performance against Poland on Wednesday night hinted at reform.
In virtually every pressure situation since time began, England have reverted to type, defending heroically but too deep, and pumping balls forward for a bustling centre-forward to contest. On Saturday, even against a team as ordinary as Austria, they too often played passes that, to use Graham Taylor's phrase, were “like tossing a coin”.
Nobody could doubt Alan Smith's courage or commitment in battling for possession, but his very presence encouraged the aimless punt. With Defoe partnering Michael Owen, though, long high passes out of defence simply turned over possession, and, as a result, England played far better football on Wednesday.
“We have big orthodox centre-forwards in Emile Heskey and Smith, who is not big, but acts like [a target-man],” Eriksson said. “In Carlton Cole we have one in Under-21s who maybe will come through, but you can play football as we did today with two strikers, neither of whom is a special target player, but who have a lot of movement. If it's like that of course you have to keep the ball more on the ground.”
There is a danger that will be forgotten when the physically robust Wayne Rooney returns, and the presence of two scurriers didn't prevent England persisting in the hoof against Portugal after Darius Vassell had replaced Rooney in the quarter-final of Euro 2004, but the more refined approach at least seems part of a general policy.
“We tried to keep the ball on the ground, because in this qualification group we will meet always teams that defend very well, and play counter-attack against us,” Eriksson said. “Of course if we don't then keep the ball it's going to be very difficult. It's different when you meet Portugal, France, Brazil, because then it's more difficult to keep the ball, but who knows?”
That Defoe could not give his assessment of his full debut was perhaps the greatest sadness of the nonsensical players' ban on talking to the media, but that should not detract from how impressive he was.
There has been talk his week of certain players existing in a comfort zone in which they know they are undroppable, but if Michael Owen were one of them, he is not now. Eriksson insisted Owen and Defoe had played well together, but the thought must be that they are so similar that one will step down when Rooney returns from injury.
“It is difficult to leave Defoe out, and difficult also to leave Rooney out when he's fit,” Eriksson said, before adding hastily, “and Michael Owen as well.”
Owen may not agree, but for England it is, as Eriksson put it, “a lovely problem”.
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