England rely on Rooney's teen spirit to cramp Portuguese style

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Sven Goran Eriksson's England team will have to produce one of the finest performances of his reign if they are to survive tonight's intriguing clash of footballing cultures at the Estadio da Luz here.

Sven Goran Eriksson's England team will have to produce one of the finest performances of his reign if they are to survive tonight's intriguing clash of footballing cultures at the Estadio da Luz here.

The England camp made all the right noises in the build-up to the European Championship quarter-final yesterday. They were confident, they were united, they were happy. They were coming to the boil at the right time.

But so are the Portuguese. Victory over Spain has liberated the nervous team which stumbled to defeat in the opening game against Greece and then staggered to victory over a depleted Russia. As the tournament has developed, Luiz Felipe Scolari has ruthlessly dispensed with all but the most lustrous of the fabled "golden generation", Luis Figo. In their place has emerged a fresh, exciting team, driven on by Figo and stiffened by the spine of Porto's European Cup winners.

England are also a maturing side, one which has been bedded down for longer and has been lifted by the extraordinary flowering of Wayne Rooney's huge talent.

England, however, lack the pace, width and technique of the Portuguese team, qualities they hope to counter with organisation and patience.

"We must be calm and keep our shape," Eriksson said yesterday. "If you give players like Figo, Deco Souza and Cristiano Ronaldo space, they will kill you. On one-to-one they can beat anyone, so we must cover each other. Figo, Deco and Ronaldo will wander all over the pitch, so we must remain compact. They are technically very good and will try and keep the ball. We must seek to win it high up the pitch so we can attack them."

That game plan places a huge onus on Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. It will also ask a lot of a team which will have had only 70 hours to recover from Monday's win over Croatia and prepare for Portugal. "We have done everything we can in the time available to get the players ready," Eriksson said, "but it is a short time."

England will hope to frustrate Portugal, buoyed by a crowd which could be 50 per cent English. They will also hope Rooney maintains his incredible form. But Rooney, or "Wazza", as the England team now call him, in homage to "Gazza" , may find space hard to come by. Scolari is toying with the idea of bringing in Armando Petit to man-mark him, but even if he does not Francisco Costinha, the deep-lying midfielder, is sure to try to limits Rooney's options.

"They are defending well and it will be difficult for him, but he is a clever footballer," Eriksson said. "He will find space."

One area which may prove profitable for England is long-range shooting, something all four midfielders are capable of but which Portuguese-based goalkeepers like Ricardo are unfamiliar with, because of the national preference for trying to "walk" the ball in.

England have not beaten Portugal in competition since the 1966 World Cup semi-final, when Nobby Stiles subdued Eusebio and Bobby Charlton scored twice. The last of four subsequent competitive meetings was the 3-2 defeat in Eindhoven in the last European Championships. England lost, having been 2-0 up after 18 minutes, and David Beckham left the field to vicious abuse from England supporters.

"It is not a nice memory and I wouldn't want to experience something like that again," Beckham said yesterday. "We were cruising, then Luis Figo ran through the middle of our defence and thumped one in."

Figo is now a team-mate and friend, after helping Beckham settle in Madrid, and the pair have been in regular touch during the tournament. Though past his prime, Figo remains hugely influential having dragged Portugal to victory over Spain almost by dint of his own personality.

He retires from international football after this tournament but if England are to bring down the curtain prematurely they may need Beckham to assert a similar influence. To date in this tournament he has been a disciplined but restrained presence on the right flank, overshadowed on and off the pitch by Rooney.

"I'm not jealous, not at all," Beckham said yesterday. "It's not about me, it's about the team. I've deliberately taken more defensive responsibility because we have three other midfielders who like to go forward. I'm happy with my game."

Since arriving in Portugal England have been training at the Estadio Nacional where, in 1947, England's greatest forward line - Stanley Matthews, Wilf Mannion, Tommy Lawton, Stan Mortensen and Tom Finney - thrashed Portugal 10-0. Such scorelines are now the stuff of fantasy, against anyone, but England will hope something has rubbed off.

Historically, England usually go out at this stage. If they do, the team will not have failed as such, but an opportunity will have been lost.

Eriksson, who spent five years at the old Luz stadium, coaching Benfica, said: "To get this far is a partial success, but I don't want to go home. These tournaments are what you live for professionally, what you dream about every day in the office. I love it. It smells of football 24 hours a day."

The aroma around the England camp to date has been of teen spirit. Another sniff and Nirvana will be in sight. England are capable of winning, but the fear is Portugal will be too quick, too fluid, too fresh and too good.