Butt on England stand-by for fragile Gerrard

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The Independent Football

Steven Gerrard, once again, is the main injury concern as England prepare to meet Greece in tomorrow evening's World Cup European Group Nine qualifier.

The Liverpool midfielder continues to be troubled by a sore back and was the only player not to train yesterday. England, who arrived in Greece last night after training at their Spanish preparatory camp in La Manga earlier in the day, will give the inspirational youngster as long as possible to prove his fitness. Nicky Butt, who deputised for Gerrard in the last qualifying tie in Albania, would be the likely replacement should he fail to recover.

The injury is the latest setback in Gerrard's promising but all-too-frequently interrupted international career. Having been selected in eight squads by Kevin Keegan, he only managed one start and one substitute appearance. He has since been injured for two of Sven Goran Eriksson's four matches.

The other fitness concerns, David Beckham, David Seaman and Paul Scholes, all trained and are expected to be fit to play. England were further encouraged, when they arrived at 7.30pm local time, to find the heat not as stifling as anticipated. With kick-off tomorrow not until 9.45pm local time the players are unlikely to have to play in temperatures exceeding those experienced during their week in Spain.

Germany's draw in Finland last Saturday has added extra spice to tomorrow night's match for both Greece and England, who a week ago seemed to be battling it out for second place. A 2-2 draw in Helsinki, the Germans' first dropped points of the campaign, have even given England a slim chance of claiming top place. To do that they would need them to beat Germany away in September, and win all their other games, improving their goal difference significantly along the way. First, though, they must win in Athens against a Greek team with qualification hopes of their own.

"That result in Helsinki will mean nothing unless we beat Greece on Wednesday," Eriksson, the England coach, said. "We now have a chance to win the group but the important thing is to focus on our remaining matches." Germany, who visit Albania tomorrow, have 13 points from five games, England seven from four and Greece six from five. England, however, are on a high after four successive wins, Eriksson enjoying a 100 per cent start as the country's first foreign coach.

The week of training at La Manga will have helped gel the side further and the only changes from the starting line-up that overran Mexico 4-0 in the Derby game are likely to be David Seaman, back in goal, and Steve McManaman replacing Emile Heskey on the left of midfield.

Greece battled to an unimpressive 1-0 victory over Albania in Crete and showed little to suggest they are capable of a first-ever win over England.

The countries have met six times, with England winning five and drawing one. The last meeting was a 5-0 Wembley victory for Terry Venables' team over a World Cup-bound Greek side in 1994.

Greece's most dangerous player on Saturday was Alekos Alexandris, though it was Ajax striker Nikos Machlas who got the only goal. Against England they will be without the attacking midfielder Giorgos Georgiadis and defender Christos Patsatzoglou, who both collected second cautions against Albania. The midfielder Grigoris Georgatos has been quoted as saying he is still too traumatised by his club Olympiakos's defeat in the Greek Cup final to play.

The Greek defender Nikos Dabizas, who plays in the English Premiership for Newcastle United, promised a better show tomorrow.

"We work better against the better teams," said Dabizas. "Don't expect anything less against England. The aggression will be there."

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