Craig Brown: Eriksson's authority remains intact

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So many lives are lived vicariously and precariously through his decisions that Sven Goran Eriksson, not for the first time, has an awesome responsibility this evening.

Forget the machinations of alleged player-power, Sven is "The Man". From my perspective he has cleverly engineered a situation using his positional power to create a spurious democracy. Of course, he has the formal authority to dictate but his vast experience, and consummate self-assurance, have enabled him to persuade and convince rather than to command and direct. Players, in my experience, will sometimes mistake kindness for softness but in all the pre-Swiss tactical debate, the England squad's respect for their leader was never in doubt.

Still, even after a resounding 3-0 result there remains public, if not private, debate, especially regarding the midfield shape. One thing is certain, more cover must be provided for Ashley Cole to enable him to get forward in his customary cavalier fashion.

On Thursday, England were exposed, particularly early on, on the Swiss right. It would be counter-productive to shackle Cole, who is playing so well, but either Paul Scholes or Steven Gerrard will be required to provide protective width in an extreme left position. There is a case for putting Gerrard as the outer player with Scholes central, areas from which both can excel. Did not Gerrard make a superb run from the left to score a fine third goal against the Swiss?

Operating in opposition for Croatia in this area will be Dario Simic of Milan, who lost his right-back club position to Cafu and, having played only 10 Serie A games and all but one qualifier, will be fit and fresh.

In front of him, the accomplished Nenad Bjelica of Kaiserslautern, has experience of playing in the Iberian peninsula with Albacete, Real Betis and Las Palmas in Spain. The summer heat will not be strange to him but it is to be hoped that the scorching English attacks on his flank will pin him back in defence.

It is on the opposite side that the free-kick specialist and penalty-taker (whom David James will surely have studied against France) Milan Rapaic, another Serie A player, with the giant defender Josip Simunic of Hertha Berlin behind him, will test the undoubted defensive resolve of Gary Neville and David Beckham.

I expect the experienced England pair to cope comfortably but it may be different through the middle where there will be considerable local support for Tomislav Sokota, who plies his trade for Benfica, still by far the most popular team in Portugal in spite of the recent successes of Porto. He will be accompanied by the deadly Dado Prso. The 29-year-old from Monaco, for whom he scored eight goals in the Champions' League this season, will constitute the biggest threat to England as French fans will testify after his clever equaliser in Leiria. Having agreed to join Rangers next season, what a hero the pony-tailed striker will be in Scotland if he contributes to the defeat of England.

Not unlike another Monaco/Rangers striker, Mark Hateley, I can envisage him causing plenty of problems, but I genuinely expect England's Sol Campbell and John Terry to cope, but not without some difficulty.

Having been in charge of Scotland in two drawn qualification games against Croatia three years ago when Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker and Alen Boksic were still around, I suspect their replacements have not perhaps got the same flair, but there is a positive team unity engendered by the 71-year-old coach, Otto Baric, which will cause problems to England. Add to that an aerial threat from Igor Tudor, Prso, Simunic and Sokota, not to mention Ivica Mornar, if he appears, and there could be further difficulty for England.

Baric, too, has had his tactics controversially questioned but the occasion, the magnificent venue, what's at stake, personal, collective and national pride will, I feel, ensure that Sven will succeed in bearing the burden of the country's considerable expectation.

And who would bet against Wayne Rooney propelling himself into further international stardom?

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