The pressure on England to succeed in the final group game at Old Trafford was born more out of their precarious position in Fifa's World Cup ranking system than the need to appease an increasingly sceptical public following four successive lame performances. With both ambitions met, Eriksson's optimism has been encouraged by the prospect of his team being among the eight top-seeded teams when the World Cup draw takes place in Leipzig on 9 December.
Three days before, Fifa's World Cup organising committee will announce its top seeds, having only met to decide the criteria for selection earlier that day. If Fifa retains the system first used at the 1998 World Cup in France, and repeated for South Korea and Japan four years later,England will qualify as a protected seed for the first time, avoiding the likes of Brazil, Argentina - their nemeses in the past two tournaments - plus Italy, France and the hosts Germany.
It is understood that leading Fifa delegates want to keep the existing formula, which judges teams on their performances at the past three World Cups and their rankings and results over the past three years. However, with minor modifications being made to the complex ranking criteria and geographical considerations taken into account - to keep two African confederation teams apart, for example - the Football Association intends to keep its counsel on England's prospects until 6 December, despite private confidence within the organisation.
Defeat to Northern Ireland exposed England to the risk of losing their place at No 8 on Fifa's ranking list to the Netherlands, only for the Austria and Poland victories to maintain their position and improve their world ranking, which will be updated next Wednesday. Marco van Basten's team cannot claim that prize even if England lose to Argentina on 12 November as they cannot overtake Brazil at the top of the world order and therefore improve their seeding points, while only the seven best results of the year carry full points value under Fifa's ranking system.
Tottenham's Dutch coach Martin Jol said yesterday that England would be contenders in the finals in Germany. "I think if England play at the top of their game, they are a better side than Holland," Jol said.
While the promise of a less taxing start in Germany will fuel England's self-belief it was the latest display of international excellence from Wayne Rooney that left his more established colleagues convinced they have a player capable of inspiring a World Cup challenge.
The captain for the night Michael Owen said: "He was outstanding at Euro 2004 but, with two more years' experience, hopefully he'll be even more potent next summer. That's what you need in these tournaments. I would think he would give any team a lift."
Rooney, named yesterday on the shortlist for the Fifa world player of the year award, was also singled out by Frank Lampard: "When you are faced with that kind of instinct player you don't want to dive in on him and if players are going to be scared of him that can only be good for England."
Based on the system used at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, the top eight seeds in the 9 December draw would be: Brazil, Spain (pending play-off), Mexico, Germany, Italy, Argentina, France and England.
* England Under-21s will play France next month in a play-off to reach the Uefa Championship. England will host the first leg on 12 November, with the away leg four days later.Reuse content