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Football: Two defeats put the spotlight on England

ENGLAND OFFICIALS have denied sending a second string team to the Fifa World Youth Championships in Nigeria after two straight defeats left them heading for an early exit.

Club managers voiced concerns about sending key players to play in the the west African country and regular Premiership players, such as Liverpool's striker Michael Owen, were excused from playing in the Under-20 competition.

England insisted the side they were sending was aimed at winning the tournament but they lost 1-0 to the United States in their opening match and were beaten 1-0 by Cameroon on Thursday, leaving them bottom of their group with just one more match to play against Japan tomorrow.

"We're not in Nigeria with a second-string team," insisted a Football Association spokesman, Adrian Bevington, who is with the squad in Kano. "We have a development programme which involves a wide pool of players and the idea is for these players to gain experience. We would love to have progressed in this competition, but regardless of what the results are we can be grateful for the experience of playing at a world championship."

Bevington said health and safety fears expressed before the tournament about the decision to stage the event in Nigeria were unfounded: "We've had no problems. Everybody has gone of their way to make us feel at home."

"The weather has been hot but that has not forced us to drop our pace," said the England coach, Chris Ramsey. "We have lasted the whole 90 minutes in our two matches and even finished the stronger side against Cameroon."