Beckham's bone heals as tide finally turns for England
Tuesday 28 May 2002
With five days remaining to England's opening World Cup match Sven Goran Eriksson will begin putting the pieces of his jigsaw back together again today, when four of his limping lions return to full training.
Barring any reaction to their injuries, Ashley Cole, Nicky Butt, Robbie Fowler and David Seaman should all thus be available for selection for Sunday's match against Sweden.
The best news for the England coach, however, is that he may also be able to pick David Beckham, who was told last night that his left foot had healed. Beckham is expected to test his fitness in a full training session on Friday. The news takes the pressure off Kieron Dyer, who will continue with his rehabilitation programme in the hope he will be fit for the Argentina match.
The decision whether to play Beckham against the Swedes in Saitama is entirely England's to make. Manchester United's medical staff are likely to be consulted but do not have, nor expect, any right of veto.
The only other fitness concern for England is that several players have been suffering from blistered feet. Martin Keown said: "We are at the end of a hard season with the clubs and you think your feet are ready for it, but we have a lot of blisters. The grounds are very hard."
This is one reason for leaving the pitches well-grassed, which England have found is making passing difficult. "The ball is very sticky on the surface and not moving particularly quickly," Keown added.
The Arsenal defender, like most of the England squad, was an interested television spectator when Sweden drew with the co-hosts Japan on Saturday night. "The Swedes looked professional and very well organised," Keown said. "They scored against the run of play and they looked strong. I was also impressed with the Japanese, their technique and tempo."
Keown was not the only one watching and waiting. Since December England have been tracked by Roland Andersson. A lot can be read into the way someone defines himself. When Andersson was introduced as "the man who played right-back for Malmo in the European Cup final against Nottingham Forest", the quietly spoken Swede's opening conversational gambit was: "I should have cut out the John Robertson cross from which Trevor Francis scored the only goal."
Twenty-three years on, it remains at the forefront of his mind. Sad, in a way, since playing in a European Cup final is an achievement in itself, especially for a part-time footballer, as Andersson was. But it also suggests a perfectionist and a professional, and the ideal man to scout Sven Goran Eriksson's team.
What has he seen? While understandably loath to give away too much, he was prepared to provide a flavour of his scouting report. "England are a good side because everyone is willing to defend and they get players behind the ball very quickly," he said.
"That makes them compact at the back. They also have so much pace up front. Most teams play so deep it is difficult to get behind them but we push up, so we have to be worried about the pace England have. Not many teams have players like Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell who like running into space."
He then added the obvious caveat. "It is a little different for England now that Steven Gerrard, and maybe Beckham, are not playing. Those balls into Owen especially, particularly when he is turning out to the left, do not exist if Gerrard and Beckham are not playing."
To many English eyes Eriksson is building a long-ball team but, while not wishing to be drawn into the argument, Andersson asked: "What's wrong with the long ball? When it is played well it is effective. Wimbledon did it for years they had the players."
Andersson added with a smile: "It is going to be a very tight game. Maybe we will play more in an English fashion than the English. We are great fans of English football in Sweden. If Sweden went out Swedish people would support England because of Sven and they always support England. The first game is very important, so why don't we settle for the draw?"
In the circumstances England may be happy to do so. Nor is it an improbable result. Sweden have lost once in 20 matches, England twice in 15.
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