Australia in talks to line up friendly against England

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The Independent Football

The Socceroos had planned to prepare for Germany 2006 by taking on Greece, the Netherlands and Croatia in warm-up games but changed those plans after being drawn alongside Croatia ­ as well as Brazil and Japan ­ in Group F.

The Football Federation Australia chief executive, John O'Neill, revealed tentative talks had taken place over the possibility of a match with England. He said: "We'll have a game in late May against Greece, then a game against the Netherlands, and we're looking for two others. Maybe South Korea and maybe England."

Talk of such a match may not go down too well with England's manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, however. Australia won 3-1 when the two teams last met at Upton Park in February 2003 and Eriksson, who fielded an entirely different side in each half that night, recently admitted the rivalry between the two countries had caught him by surprise.

Eriksson will meet with his coaching staff this week to plot England's preparations for next summer's finals and will decide upon the friendly opponent for the match on 1 March. Australia are just one of 25 countries who have applied to play England. Eriksson said: "There are a lot of requests from teams who want to play England and that is something we will decide [this week]."

He added: "It's difficult to say this group of players is the best chance England has got of winning a World Cup because I've only been here five years but, since I came to this country, I've never had such a good squad. It was a good draw for us. Compared to the last World Cup it's a much better draw. I feel we'll go through.

"We have been fighting very hard to have four weeks' preparation instead of three which was what we had at the last World Cup and we've achieved that. That will be very important. We have one more week to rest and prepare and that's very important."

The last sale of World Cup tickets begins today with 250,000 seats on offer until 15 January. On 31 January a ballot will be held to decide who will receive tickets. The 812,000 first placed on offer were oversubscribed by more than 10 to one and demand is expected to be even higher now.

Eriksson also defended the under-fire Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, yesterday. Eriksson said Ferguson would recover from United's Champions' League exit last week, adding: "You should not criticise Ferguson because of everything he's done at the club. He's been fantastic. Year on year United compete at the highest level. All teams dip now and then. United will come back very quickly and Ferguson will come back very quickly."