Boost for Johnson but only misery for Smith as England squad named

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson has been trying to convert the former Leeds striker into a midfield player, but that is an area in which England are particularly well stocked. Newcastle's Kieron Dyer is the one midfielder not available this week, because of a lack of match practice, which means there is room for his club-mate Jermaine Jenas, Tottenham's Michael Carrick and Phil Neville, who has just left United for Everton. But Smith's lack of pace and defensive experience has told against him.

Neville, on the other hand, appears to have justified his move away from Old Trafford after 18 years, catching Eriksson's eye with his performances against Villareal and then his former club. He can also cover as deputy full-back for the injured Wayne Bridge. With Sol Campbell, Wes Brown and Ledley King all out, Birmingham's Matthew Upson wins a reprieve.

Peter Crouch's injury soon after joining Liverpool means there is another chance as the fourth striker for Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson, Eriksson having promised to break new ground by watching a Championship match or two this season. That would also please another international newcomer, Norwich City's Robert Green, who has won the first round of his battle with Chris Kirkland, on loan at West Bromwich, for the third goalkeeper's position next summer.

It may be tempting fate for Englishmen - and one Swede - to talk too much in August about Germany next June, and will certainly incite Wales and Northern Ireland to greater heights of passion when Eriksson's team visit them at the start of next month. But even with Poland currently top of the group, by virtue of having played a game more, England's position is strong enough after five straight wins to have supporters booking their holidays with confidence.

After visiting two potential German training bases last week, and before naming his squad for Wednesday's friendly away to Denmark, Eriksson admitted: "I don't like doing that before we've qualified. But I understand we have to do it. Of course there's pressure and it will grow and grow. You have to cope with that and live with it."

His way of coping is to relive the disappointment of quarter-final failures against Brazil and Portugal in two tournaments in charge of England, while quietly reminding himself of the positives: "I've said for a long time we have the best squad since I came here - the right age, a lot of experience even with a young squad, and we are one of five or six nations who could win it like Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Italy, Holland. It's important to cross the fingers for no injuries. And we have the extra week, which will be very, very important."

So, quarter-finalists again? "No, no, you want to improve. Why I'm optimistic is that the team is better, more experienced but not too old. And how we lost in Japan and how we lost in Portugal, [was] not like we're losing 5-0. We were almost there then and we know we are better. But you can't sit here 10 months before the World Cup and say we're going to win it." Whatever Sir Alf Ramsey may have promised 40 years ago.

The Swede admitted last night that his favoured line-up at present is the expected one, with Paul Robinson still ahead of David James in goal; Rio Ferdinand and John Terry at centre-back; and Joe Cole having tied down the troublesome midfield position to the left of the immovable David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

Eriksson claims it will not worry him if, as expected, Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips find their opportunities limited at Chelsea. "If Chelsea thought Joe Cole would sit on the bench all the time, I think they'd try to sell him," he said. "They think they need him and I'm sure [they do], as the season is long. If you're one of the biggest clubs in England and you want to to win the league, the FA Cup and Champions' League, you need two teams.

"If when he's on the pitch he plays as he did at the end of last season, that's fine. I always believed in him as a talent but suddenly he's started to think about football, not only doing tricks. I remember sometimes sitting on the bench and it became crazy, he'd lose the ball once, twice, three times. You can't do that."

As for Michael Owen, Eriksson has made no secret of how pleased he would be to see him playing and training with Wayne Rooney on a daily basis at Manchester United. But if Ferguson, understandably, cannot see the pair of them dovetailing with Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Owen decides against joining Newcastle or Liverpool, the Swede will remain his usual philosophical self.

England squad:

Paul Robinson (Tottenham)

David James (Man City)

Robert Green (Norwich City)

Gary Neville (Man United)

Rio Ferdinand (Man United)

John Terry (Chelsea)

Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

Matthew Upson (Birmingham)

Glen Johnson (Chelsea)

Ashley Cole (Arsenal)

Phil Neville (Everton)

David Beckham (Real Madrid)

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

Joe Cole (Chelsea)

Wayne Rooney (Man United)

Michael Owen (Real Madrid)

Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)

Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea)

Jermaine Jenas (Newcastle)

Owen Hargreaves (Bayern)

Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace)

Michael Carrick (Tottenham)

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