Coach defends new boys and bewildering tactics

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson wrapped a consoling arm around Shaun Wright-Phillips last night after the Manchester City winger's full England debut ended in deep disappointment amid the lamentable draw with the Netherlands at Villa Park, which again gave more ammunition to those who argue vociferously against the validity of international friendlies.

Wright-Phillips, identified ahead of the game by Marco Van Basten, the Netherlands coach, as England's most potent weapon, completely fluffed his big night, missing England's best two chances, both from inside 10 yards. If he had scored, it would have given Wright-Phillips something positive to take from an England performance which raised more question marks over Eriksson's second-half tactics.

Wright-Phillips looked nothing more than a novice and almost cost England victory, conceding possession to Dirk Kuijt, who struck Paul Robinson's post in the first half.

Even Eriksson was forced to admit that the occasion affected Wright-Phillips, saying: "He was nervous, but that is normal when you are starting your first game for England.

"His career has gone up, up and up in a very short time and I am sure the next time that he starts he will be less nervous."

Eriksson only gave Middlesbrough's Stuart Downing 30 minutes in the second half last night and played Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson for the same time out of position on the right wing.

"You always learn something from games and it was an improvement on the game against Spain. Was if fair on Andy Johnson? He was very happy to be picked," Eriksson said. "I know he prefers to play in a central position, but he did quite well on the right. I wanted to keep the system we started with and Owen needed 90 minutes."

Meanwhile, Gary Neville risked a row with Nike - who have a 13-year £300m deal with Manchester United - when he said the sportswear company should not be allowed free "public relations" from the anti-racism campaign.

The Netherlands players wore specially made black-and-white Nike shirts last night as part of Thierry Henry's Stand Up - Speak Out campaign.

Neville said: "It's important that the anti-racism message is not cheapened by big corporations like Nike getting lots of free publicity out of it."

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