Eriksson given FA's full backing

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Sven Goran Eriksson has been assured he will remain England manager even if Croatia knock the national team out of the European Championships at the Estadio da Luz today.

Mark Palios, the Football Association's chief executive, visited the England team's hotel in Lisbon's western suburbs yesterday to assure the Swede of the FA's backing. Palios later said: "There is no question of Sven not being retained whatever happens against Croatia. If we go out it will be because we lost the first game when we looked to have it won. We did everything against France and lost to a bit of bad luck. Everything we should have done we did and it was a great performance, so what can you do?

"I think he would have a greater incentive to stay on from the point of view that he realises we would have gone out on a bit of bad fortune," Palios added. "You certainly wouldn't take him out on what happens in the Croatia match. I still believe this squad has the potential to do what we have always said it could do.

"When Sven signed his new contract, I knew we couldn't compete with Chelsea on his salary. But I reminded Sven that he had two great opportunities to win something in Euro 2004 and the next World Cup and that hasn't changed."

Palios' approach is in stark contrast to the Croatian FA who have told manager Otto Baric he will be offered a new contract if his team beat England, and can expect to be dismissed if they do not.

Given the scale of the severance costs, around £3m, it is doubtful the FA could afford to follow suit. Their support is, though, motivated more by belief in the manager than finance. However, they know they will have to withstand massive public and media criticism if England lose and Eriksson stays on.

Not that anyone within the camp is contemplating defeat. Indeed, they expect to progress beyond the last eight. Steve McClaren, manager of Middlesbrough and a key member of Eriksson's coaching staff, said yesterday: "The team which starts a tournament well is not necessarily the one that ends it well. The team that wins is usually one which has got better as it goes on."

McClaren added: "This game is similar to the situation we were in two years ago in the World Cup. Then we had to draw with Nigeria. We got through."

The example is not entirely accurate as Nigeria were already out of the competition and happy, as England were in Osaka's searing heat, to settle for a draw. Tonight Croatia need to win. A more accurate parallel from the many available - England have needed a result in their last group game for seven successive tournaments - is with the last European Championships four years ago this week. Then, as now, England had lost a dramatic opening game after taking the lead, in that case they were 2-0 up against Portugal after 18 minutes but lost 3-2. England again won their second game, against Germany, and only required a draw from the third group game, against Romania, who needed a win, to progress. Many were more concerned that England's progress would be halted by the misbehaviour of their own supporters than their Balkan opponents.

However, despite leading 2-1 at half-time, England lost 3-2, the crucial goal coming in the final minute after Phil Neville had brought down Viorel Moldovan, once of Coventry, to concede a penalty.

"The dressing room was not the best place I've ever been after that game," said Beckham. "It was devastating, especially after we had beaten the Germans for the first time in so many years. Maybe we were complacent and just expected to go through. We were so full of confidence after beating Germany but it was totally knocked out of us. I don't want another memory like that."

In another parallel Owen had been substituted in the first two matches. As he has here. There has been growing speculation suggesting the out-of-sorts Liverpool striker will be omitted in favour of Darius Vassell but Eriksson continues to insist he will never drop Owen.

McClaren, echoed that view when he said: "It's never been up for discussion. Michael will be disappointed he's not scored a goal nor played as well as he would like but we're very hopeful he'll score goals in this tournament.

"Meanwhile he's creating goals for others and helping them find space. Every team has a gameplan based around stopping the opposition's main players. When we played France we worked on stopping Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane. Teams who play us plan the same way for Michael."

England's main doubt tonight is Paul Scholes whose ankle remains "sore". Should he fail to make it Eriksson may call on Kieron Dyer as Owen Hargreaves, the usual understudy, is out with a stomach complaint. The alternatives are to play Emile Heskey on the left or to restore the diamond with Phil Neville at the base and Steven Gerrard on the left. Incidentally, Nicky Butt, who was ruled out of the tournament last week with a knee injury, has remained with the team and after working hard in the gym remains hopeful he will regain fitness by the end of the tournament.

For his work to be relevant England must first avoid defeat tonight. They should do so but much will depend on a Croatian team whose level of performance is even more unpredictable than England's.

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