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A game against Jamaica probably could never have answered the 4-5-1 question, but it appears Sven-Göran Eriksson will not even ask it on Saturday afternoon in England’s final warm-up game before the World Cup.
Although he remained typically unforthcoming on Friday on England’s line-up, the likelihood is a return to 4-4-2 at Old Trafford, with Peter Crouch, buoyed by a week in which he scored his second international goal and danced for Prince William, starting up front alongside Michael Owen.
There will be those who would prefer to see England experiment with the five-man midfield again, but Eriksson’s decision has logic on its side.
Certainly, in an ideal world, it would be an advantage if Steven Gerrard had more experience of playing in an advanced role, or if it were clearer who the midfield anchor should be, but it is debatable how much could be learnt about a formation that stands or falls by its transition from defence to attack against a side as weak as Jamaica. This rather should be about gaining fitness and, hopefully, enhancing morale.
Against Hungary on Tuesday, Jamie Carragher looked tidy but ponderous at the back of the midfield – but his defensive capabilities were never tested, and he was given far more time on the ball than he would ever be afforded in a truly competitive game. Jamaica, who lost 4-1 to Ghana on Monday, can hardly be expected to provide a more realistic examination.
And even come the World Cup, the extra midfielder is unlikely to be used before the final group game against Sweden. England face Paraguay in their opening match next Saturday, and, while they should not be underestimated, their back four is noticeably short, making them vulnerable to the height of Crouch – particularly if David Beckham continues to cross the ball as well as he did on Tuesday.
“His delivery from wide is better than world-class,” Eriksson said. “His right foot is the best in the world at that.”
Similarly, England should not feel the need for the protection of a holding midfielder against their second opponents, a Trinidad and Tobago side who have lost to both Wales and Slovenia this week.
Of course, all the tinkering with tactics will be academic when – if – Wayne Rooney returns from injury. Al-though a decision on whether to include him in the final squad will not be taken until after his scan on Wednesday, the indications yesterday were promising, with the Manchester United forward running, turning and kicking with both feet ahead of the main training session.
Eriksson was noticeably relaxed, jokingly dismissing the fact that Rooney had apparently told Prince William that he would be fit for the World Cup. “He has many qualities as a prince,” Eriksson said, “but he is not a surgeon.”
There has long been a theory that the Swede speaks rather better English than he lets on, and the parodic application of one of his favourite clichés seemed to confirm it.
It confirmed the impression that has been growing ever since Eriksson ann-ounced a squad that was, by any measure, courageous: that the knowledge that he will no longer be England’s coach after the World Cup has liberated him. It is hard to see how that can be anything other than a positive, especially if the lack of tension is communicated to the squad.
Certainly that is a preferable way of lightening the mood than Rio Ferdinand’s misguided attempt at a practical joke that saw Beckham being “kidnapped” by a fake security guard on Monday. Beckham insisted yesterday that he had never really believed he was being abducted, but admitted he was sufficiently disturbed to jump from a car that was “moving slightly”, run across a road and hail a passing taxi. He seemed to take the prank in good heart, but it is crassly irresponsible that the England captain should be leaping from a moving vehicle a fortnight before the start of the World Cup.
That nonsense aside, if Eriksson is to be believed, preparations could hardly be going better.
“I’m very confident,” the manager said. “In the first half of the last game we played it too long and we should have it shorter, but training is very good.
“The best I think is yet to come. If you talk about my legacy, I hope it is World Cup 2006.”
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