Football: Sheringham kicks open the door

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The Independent Online
IF KEVIN KEEGAN had been true to the theme of the week he would have named his England squad to play next month's European Championship qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria then added, just as the media thought it was all over, "and I've also called up Teddy Sheringham".

In the event the England coach yesterday released the Manchester United striker's name along with 21 others and, though he was not included in the original 33-man group who had been warned not to book their holidays, his appearance was considerably less dramatic than it had been in the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.

Sheringham has not played for England since he was substituted against Romania in Toulouse during the World Cup last June but his recent renaissance, and Keegan's lack of alternatives, meant it would have been a major surprise had he not been recalled.

"I always said the door was open and he has been very influential in the last 10 games for United," Keegan said. "With him in the squad we've got good options. He gives you something other players don't. I'm not saying he'll start the game because at this moment in time I haven't decided."

With Michael Owen injured, and a string of players from Chris Sutton to Dion Dublin having ended the season either out of form or struggling for fitness, Keegan also recalled Robbie Fowler despite his suspension from club football for imitating drug-taking as part of a goal celebration.

"His fitness is excellent," Keegan said of the Liverpool striker. "The fact that he hasn't played for a while might mean he's champing at the bit."

Paul Ince, however, was not selected, despite having completed the Uefa suspension imposed after his dismissal in the away match with Sweden in September. Though Keegan denied it was the case, it may signal the end of Ince's England career after 46 caps, several of them as captain.

"I've told him the truth," said Keegan, who spoke to Ince an hour before the announcement "I could have picked a squad of 25 and fudged the issue, but if I'd picked him in the 25 it wouldn't have been to play and I don't see the sense of dragging him down here and to Sofia if he isn't going to play.

"He's disappointed and I would be disappointed if he wasn't. The door is still open and it will stay open."

Five of Manchester United's treble champions are included, but Nicky Butt and Gary Neville will not be involved. Neville has a hip injury - and has to oversee the formalities for David Beckham's wedding for which he is best man - while Butt is simply dropped. "His chance will come again," Keegan said.

Four other players are missing from the team which drew with Hungary last month. Wes Brown and Frank Lampard are dropped, there is a fitness doubt about Kevin Phillips and Steve McManaman withdrew after his mother died on Thursday night after a long illness. McManaman felt, said Keegan, that he would not be mentally fit to play.

Keegan has also lost Tony Adams, Nigel Martyn and Owen through injury. However, with eight players who had been unavailable for Hungary returning, Ian Walker and Richard Wright, who have been called up to cover for Martyn, are the only players not previously selected by Keegan.

Five of the eight (Sol Campbell, Graeme Le Saux, Andy Cole, Paul Scholes and David Beckham) are likely to start against Sweden at Wembley next Saturday. England, who are five points behind Sweden with a harder run- in, must win that tie and the visit to Bulgaria four days later if they are to retain any hope of qualifying automatically for the finals.

More likely, admitted the coach, is a place through the play-offs for group runners-up, which means staying ahead of Poland and Bulgaria who are one and three points behind.

"It is up to us, the team, to keep it all going," Keegan said. "The Poland game at Wembley was how I would like to see all our games going. We put the effort in and had a bit of luck. If we play like that we are going to be hard to beat."

The matches come at the end of a long season, especially for the Manchester United players, but Keegan's sympathy was tempered with realism.

"There is no break for the top players but there was no break in my day. People talk about the nice cars and houses, but, whether you are in showbiz or football, it's about work. Everyone sees it differently from how it really is. The players are all looking forward to the game and we will test them. We must put Sweden under pressure.

"I think second place is the best we can hope for but look what happens in football. Ask Bayern Munich fans."

England squad

Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Tottenham), Wright (Ipswich), Campbell (Tottenham), Southgate (Aston Villa), Keown (Arsenal), Ferdinand (West Ham), P Neville (Manchester United), Le Saux (Chelsea), Woodgate (Leeds), Gray (Sunderland), Batty (Leeds), Beckham (Manchester United), Sherwood (Tottenham), Redknapp (Liverpool), Scholes (Manchester United), Parlour (Arsenal), Shearer (Newcastle), Sheringham (Manchester United), Heskey (Leicester), Cole (Manchester United), Fowler (Liverpool).

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