The phones were ringing when the Football Association's Customer Services team opened the stylish front doors of their Soho Square office yesterday morning. Eight hours later, as they headed wearily into the London evening, they were still demanding attention.
The ringing echoed the wake-up call Sven Goran Eriksson has sent through the English game. Less than a year ago Howard Wilkinson, one of his caretaker predecessors, was pondering aloud the possibility of writing off next summer's World Cup. Now England are 90 minutes from securing a place at the sport's high table and everyone wants to be at Old Trafford next month to escort them to their seat.
"We've been deluged with calls from people wanting to see the Greece game," said one staffer. "Hopefully that will be the one that sends us through and everyone wants to be there." The answer was one of having to wait. The initial tranche of tickets for public sale went weeks ago. Another 30,000 will soon be available to members of englandfans, the re-vamped official supporters club. Those tickets not bought by them, probably around 20,000, will go on general sale nearer the 6 October date.
Supporters planning to follow England to Japan and South Korea have two choices. The general public will be able enter the internet lottery run by the game's world governing body, Fifa, after 1 December. The FA's own allocation, expected to be 15 per cent of ground capacity for each match, will be available later, and only to members of englandfans.
This, of course, depends on England defeating Greece. While the Greeks, thrashed by Finland on Wednesday, are in disarray England's nervous win over Albania showed victory cannot be taken for granted.
"We suffered more than I wanted us to do," Eriksson said yesterday. "We lost control of the game, we lost confidence and seemed tired. We could not score and became frightened. But it was still a very good win. We got three more points, and two more goals. That might be very important.
"Even teams like Argentina and France are not playing good football every time they come to the pitch. It is the same with us. We played 90 minutes of good football on Saturday, a little bit more than 45 minutes this time. And we took six points. I am happy with that. We now have to learn from the mistakes of the second half."
During the difficult closing stages David Beckham rose to the occasion as he has repeatedly since becoming captain. Eriksson said of the 26-year-old: "Every time we come together he is a more complete player, every time he takes more responsibility. I am proud of him as skipper. When people think about Beckham it is the right-foot they think of but he is not only that. His first touch is excellent. When you have such a good touch you are immediately ready to shoot or pass. That is a great skill in football, especially modern football where you don't have much space or time."
It is not just Beckham's skill which makes him emblematic of the England Eriksson is trying to create. Beckham's other qualities were encapsulated by an episode in the second period when he doggedly tracked Edvin Murati down the flank until, at the third attempt, he finally dispossessed him.
"He is very hard-working," Eriksson said. "He can run a lot. He takes up good positions defensively and has desire – without which you can't achieve anything in football. I say 'thank you very much' to Peter Taylor. He started this by picking a young team against Italy and making Beckham captain." The nod to Taylor, currently beleaguered at Leicester City, was a nice touch from Eriksson. It also suggested that, should the Foxes panic, a place in the England set-up might be found for the former Under-21 coach.
For now Eriksson will return to his tour of English Premiership grounds. The various conundrums he faces before Old Trafford – Owen's partner and the left flank – would be resolved, he hinted, by picking the men in form.
What happens after 6 October Eriksson is disinclined to discuss, even with his employers. The FA, given the tortuous logistics of a dual-nation World Cup, cannot afford to be as circumspect. It embarks, next week, on another reconnaissance mission to the Far East. Four sites, two in South Korea and two in Japan, have been identified as potential bases. Costs are expected to be astronomical but they will still be dwarfed by the potential rewards. Most of the FA's main sponsorship contracts expire next summer. Negotiating new ones, on the back of qualification, will be a cinch.
Before then the Eriksson bandwagon rolls into Manchester. For Kevin Keegan, viewing events from his Maine Road bunker, it promises to be a bittersweet experience.Reuse content