Coach says 'time for England to play with style'

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The Independent Online

There is a supreme confidence in Sven Goran Eriksson's approach to a World Cup that will define his reputation as England manager and it emanates from the finest squad he has had at his disposal during five years in the "impossible job". With one notable exception, his theory can be put to an instant test this afternoon, as the Swede was last night insistent that Steven Gerrard would be fit for England's opening game with Paraguay.

The influential midfielder trained competitively for the first time in three days yesterday at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt, where England's Group B campaign commences at 2pm British time, to suggest the prospects of his first appearance at a World Cup finals had improved immeasurably since rating himself at only "50-50" 24 hours earlier. Concern over the Liverpool captain's involvement against the South Americans remains, however.

While the rest of the England squad, including Wayne Rooney, performed their usual warm-up routine, Gerrard ran several laps of the pitch in the company of the team's physiotherapist, Gary Lewin. He then underwent a gruelling series of tests on a back that had been sent into spasms by a knock to the hip in training on Tuesday and rejoined his colleagues for an intense session held behind closed doors. But he was not involved when England ended training by running through their set-piece deliveries and crossing.

Eriksson, who vowed to heed the lessons of the last World Cup when he played individuals who were patently short of full fitness, said: "I don't think Steven Gerrard will have a fitness test before the game. The back is good or bad and that's it. If it is like today, then he will play. If something bad happens during the night and it is much worse, why should he? Why risk him for one game? He played today, and was absolutely fantastic, absolutely brilliant. I think he should play."

After taking a stand against Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United and a professor in orthopaedic surgery over Rooney's recovery from a broken metatarsal, Eriksson's optimism over Gerrard belies his declaration that he will not repeat the mistakes of 2002. "We must be physically in a good condition to win this tournament," he admitted. "We failed badly in Japan doing that but after a lot of problems we got the extra week and that will be important at the end of the tournament."

If Gerrard does report any serious problem this morning, his place alongside Frank Lampard will almost certainly be taken by the Tottenham midfielder and prime Manchester United transfer target Michael Carrick.

Eriksson fervently believes the end of this tournament will include a place for England in the final in Berlin on 9 July, a contest that will signify much more than his final day in the employ of the Football Association. "This might be my last chance of playing a World Cup final. If that happens it will be the best day of my professional life," he said.

"I'm excited, very much so. The World Cup is the biggest stage. I have waited for this moment a long time. I am ready. Everything looks very good, the players are in good shape, in good form and they are very, very confident. They are looking forward to the match very, very much. I would be disappointed if we didn't win the World Cup. I believe we can. The team is peaking just right. I am always very positive. This is the best England team I ever had. No doubt."

The Swede has prepared the team talk that he will deliver before England leave their hotel for the stadium but his final words to the players before they walk out to face Paraguay will come from instinct. "You can never prepare what you say before the game. It depends how the spirit is in the dressing-room," he said.

"Once the game starts, it's very, very much up to the players to remember all the talking we have done and all the practice," Eriksson added.

"It is important to set the tempo. When you have a great team, you can impose yourself throughout the tournament. You can't in practice sessions say: 'Play bad football and win'. I want us to defend well and attack well, and I would like us to play with style."

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