England prepare for loss of Terry

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The Independent Football

John Terry emerged from his knight's tent at England's training session yesterday morning, but the sight of him gently jogging around the Estadio Nacional, with the physio Gary Lewin an anxious companion, hardly suggested he will be matching Thierry Henry gallop for gallop on Sunday.

John Terry emerged from his knight's tent at England's training session yesterday morning, but the sight of him gently jogging around the Estadio Nacional, with the physio Gary Lewin an anxious companion, hardly suggested he will be matching Thierry Henry gallop for gallop on Sunday.

Terry's participation in England's opening group match depends on a fitness test tomorrow

"John has made progress today and will do more work in the gym. Then on Friday, we will decide," said Sven Goran Eriksson, the England manager. Given the danger of the Chelsea centre-back aggravating his hamstring injury if he plays in the Estadio de Luz without being fully fit it would seem a gamble to play him. While it is never good to start a tournament with a defeat, of England's three group matches Sunday's would seem the one they can most afford to lose and still qualify.

Thus the emphasis, at England's sessions this week, on defensive shape. With Jamie Carragher filling in for Terry, Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager doubling up as an England coach, has taken the back four through the various problems they can expect to be set by the French.

"Hopefully we'll have 'JT' back because we've worked really hard as a back four," said Ashley Cole, England's left-back, "but I'm sure Jamie Carragher will do a great job if he plays. It will only be one player out, the other three have worked for two weeks together, so it should not disrupt us too much. I've played with Sol [Campbell, the other centre-back] a long time now and [right-back] Gary Neville is really experienced."

Cole added of his club colleague: "Sol's had a great season with Arsenal and he's come into this tournament with a lot of confidence. Every time he's played for England he's done well. I hope he can look after me and help Carragher. He's more than equipped to deal with Thierry."

There is a school of thought that Campbell's best ploy will be to upset Henry, physically or verbally. It is not a policy Cole would advocate. "If you upset him he'll play better," said Cole. "Someone upset Thierry at Blackburn. He said 'OK then', and took a free-kick to score."

According to Premiership gossip a Middlesbrough player discovered just that after kicking Henry in a match between the sides. Henry is said to have told him: "Who are you? You are nothing. I am Thierry Henry and I have won the World Cup and European Championship. Now I am going to tear you apart." He did just that as Arsenal scored four. Cole added: "I'll say to our players: 'Don't upset him'. It's the worst thing you can do."

Cole may himself be facing another Gunner, Robert Pires. In this case he is pondering a physical approach. "I said to him: 'I'll kick you if I get a chance', but I have to catch him first. He is hard to mark. As a defender you like your player to stay on the wing, but he goes everywhere. Hopefully, if I catch him I can put him in my pocket. I hope he'll bring out the best in me."

It is, seasoned England watchers may argue, about time. By Cole's own admission, his form for England has not matched that with Arsenal, though this observer feels Cole was being unduly harsh on himself when he said recently that he felt he had never played well for England.

"I do believe that," he said yesterday. "I haven't played as well as I know I can and as well as I have played for Arsenal. I hope in this tournament I can change that and play well. I think playing well for Arsenal this season has given me a lot of confidence. I'm maybe less nervous now and maybe freer in my mind. I just want to go out and play and prove I can play."

One problem is that, at Arsenal, he is able to attack with greater abandon. A former winger, Cole remains an adventurer at heart, though he argues that his defending is much improved since he made his international debut as a very raw talent in Albania in 2001.

"I really think I can defend," he said. "Everyone says I am just about attacking, but I have defended well for Arsenal this season. I think with England there is a greater onus on me to defend. At Arsenal, Arsène Wenger [the club's manager] says 'go out and play' and when I attack Patrick Vieira and Sol have covered for me. I find it harder attacking for England because there is a lot of expectation to stay at the back."

The other problem, though Cole refrained from mentioning it, is that England do not have an authentic left-sided midfield player. Whether it is Steven Gerrard in a diamond midfield, or Paul Scholes in a flat four, the player deputed to provide Cole's first line of cover is frequently Awol, having drifted into the centre. Even Pires provides some cover at Arsenal. So, at the Estadio Nacional this week, Scholes has also been taking orders from McClaren as England try and hone the defensive aspect of their new midfield system. There are just three more days to get it right.

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