Football: Keegan may be ready to extend reign

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KEVIN KEEGAN last night hinted that he would consider staying on as national coach until November if England are required to take part in the European Championship qualifying play-offs.

His suggestion came after England's hopes of automatic qualification were dented when Sweden kept up their 100 per cent record at the top of Group Five with a 1-0 win in Poland on Wednesday night. The result leaves Sweden five points ahead of England and in pole position to take the sole automatic spot.

Keegan, who began his international career with an encouraging 3-1 win over Poland last weekend, admitted that it seemed more likely England would now have to take part in the play-offs, which are scheduled for November.

"I have never said 100 per cent that I am staying or going. The prospect of the play-offs does not affect my position," Keegan said. "November is a long time off and anything could happen. I struck a deal - that Fulham agreed to - that I would do the England job until the end of the season. It is not right for me to start working on anything else, not just yet.

"There will be time to talk things through. Certainly on the plane home from Bulgaria in June we will have a clearer idea of what is going to happen."

Keegan's comments, though guarded, are sure to give some encouragement to the top men at the Football Association, who have already hinted they might consider extending Keegan's part-time role so that it covers the final games of the group against Luxembourg at home and Poland away in September.

But the FA would still prefer him to take on the position full-time, and there could still be an agreement along those lines at the end of his current tenure. Fulham's owner Mohammed Al Fayed has stated he would be prepared to release Keegan from his contract, which expires in the summer of 2000, as a gift to the nation. Another suggestion in a situation rife for rumour has been that Keegan and the FA's director of football, Howard Wilkinson, might operate some kind of job-share arrangement.

Meanwhile, the Arsenal midfielder Patrik Ljungberg, who scored Sweden's winner against Poland, has been quoted as saying England would have been in a far stronger position had Keegan been appointed earlier in the campaign.

"We are lucky Kevin Keegan did not take over before. I doubt whether we would be five points ahead at this stage," he said.

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