England must banish fear factor

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Every major national team travels with baggage. For the likes of Germany and Brazil it is the weight of success, of matching the awesome feats of their predecessors. For England it is the burden of failure - 38 years of hurt and counting.

Every major national team travels with baggage. For the likes of Germany and Brazil it is the weight of success, of matching the awesome feats of their predecessors. For England it is the burden of failure - 38 years of hurt and counting.

In these circumstances every match carries echoes of past disappointments and today's Euro 2004 tie against Switzerland in the Cidade de Coimbra is no different. The ghosts this time date from 1981 and 2002.

Two years ago England melted in the heat of Shizuoka losing the World Cup quarter-final to a depleted Brazil. Thus, when England arrived in this university city, to find the mercury touching 38C in the shade, minds went back two years. Would England wilt again? More pertinently, did they believe they would do so.

"It is not like Shizuoka. There is less humidity here though I hope we have some wind," said Sven Goran Eriksson after overseeing training in the heat yesterday afternoon.

"It is not Newcastle in January but we know Portugal in June is warm. If the heat is bad for us it is also bad for Switzerland. We'll handle it."

The heat may even prove a blessing. There has been much talk from England, led by the captain David Beckham, of starting the game with a wave of attacks. Eriksson wants his team to take the game to Switzerland but does not want a cavalier approach.

"If you attack with everything you have it is a big mistake," he said. "Switzerland are very good on the counter-attack. We have to be organised and show discipline and concentration. To attack without that is to gamble and it is not good to gamble at this level of football.

"We have to be aggressive and win the ball early but we cannot play all the match at a high tempo. It costs too much energy. We need to keep the ball."

England teams are not traditionally good at ball retention. Well though they played on Sunday they still conceded possession far too cheaply as the game went on. "I don't want many long balls," said Eriksson indicating a change in tack from Sunday's approach.

England feel they need to win but it is equally important not to lose. If France, as expected, defeat Croatia in Leiria tomorrow, and Switzerland in Coimbra on Sunday, England would qualify with a point here and a win over Croatia in Lisbon on Sunday. But if England lose here they are out regardless of results elsewhere.

Which brings the other spook into play. 1981 was the last time Switzerland beat England, in a World Cup qualifier.

The result prompted Ron Greenwood to resign and he was only talked out of doing so by senior players on the aeroplane back from Hungary, where England had won in the interim. England went on to qualify for the finals.

Should England lose tonight the pressure on Eriksson to resign, and the Football Association to dismiss him, would be huge. So, however, would be the severance costs.

The FA would rather not think about this scenario. Eriksson refuses to. "I have not contemplated defeat or the consequences of losing," he said. "I never think about defeat before a match. I am confident we will win."

England's prospects of doing so are enhanced by the rapid recovery from a twisted ankle of Paul Scholes. "I am almost 100 per cent sure he will be fit," said Eriksson. "He did everything today, even shooting practice."

Eriksson added: "Scholes is a very important player for us, a true footballer. He has been criticised for not scoring goals but his short and long passing, his one and two touch play, are a big part of our game. We have no one else with those characteristics."

Gary Neville is also fit following a calf strain so the only likely change is the return of John Terry in central defence. That will be harsh on Ledley King, who played well against France, but Terry has greater experience. The Swiss, who also go out if they lose, are expected to drop veteran striker Stéphane Chapuisat in favour of a five-man midfield. They will seek to suffocate England's flair players just as England did France's.

Eriksson cautioned against underestimating the Swiss, who defeated the Republic of Ireland home and away in qualifying, but were poor against Croatia on Sunday. David James, whose complaint that he had not seen a video of Zinedine Zidane's free-kicks sounded suspiciously like a man seeking an excuse, agreed: "We can't afford to assume Switzerland aren't going to be any good," he said.

There is another spectre from 1981 to be dealt with. England's defeat in Basle was accompanied by an outbreak of hooliganism so severe if it were repeated tonight England will be out of the tournament regardless of the result. However, problems are not anticipated, not in the Cidade de Coimbra at least, though it would help if the stadium organisation is better than it was at the Estadio da Luz on Sunday.

England have received much praise for their performance in defeat that night. This time it is only about the result. As James said: "If our performance is rubbish, but we win, we will be happy." Eriksson, also with a nod to Sunday, concluded: "We have to be motivated and concentrated, for 93 minutes."

Comments