Sven Goran Eriksson has issued a vehement defence of his and England's performance at this World Cup, insisting the campaign is unfolding strictly according to plan and he is happy to sacrifice attractive football in exchange for 6.175kg of solid gold in Berlin on 9 July.
Criticism of England's form and the lack of a settled formation in Germany finally drew an emphatic response yesterday from the man responsible as he placed his priorities firmly into perspective. "To win the World Cup I'm prepared to do whatever it takes," Eriksson said. "If that means playing bad football then come on, who cares!"
In a feisty display at England's training camp, Eriksson volunteered a rare insight into his character by revealing how he becomes beset by tension on a match day, and his belief in fate. Only when it was put to Eriksson that England's place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup owed more to accident than design, however, did he show the belligerence that had been reserved for FA officials, Sir Alex Ferguson and the occasional international footballer during his five-and-a-half-year tenure.
"Don't tell me that I don't know what to do, I know exactly what to do," said the England manager at the insinuation he will experiment with his team once again against Luiz Felipe Scolari's Portugal in Gelsenkirchen. He added: "Of course I have a clear vision - we all have, together with the other coaches. What do you think we do - let them [the players] go out and say good luck to them, do what you want to do? If it's right or wrong, that's another thing. But of course it's clear what we do. Every minute we are together it's clear what we are going to do."
England have commenced work on their fifth different line-up in five games ahead of Saturday's quarter-final, the latest incarnation prompted by the return to fitness of right-back Gary Neville but also the decision to revert Owen Hargreaves to his midfield holding role against Portugal.
Both players trained in their natural positions yesterday and, although Eriksson conceded he is "not 100 per cent sure" about Neville's participation on Saturday, he said: "His experience might be very important in a game like this."
"There is a reason why you do things," Eriksson said. "Hargreaves can play right-back and he did it very well [against Ecuador]. The reason why we put in Michael Carrick in that game was they had two central midfielders, not three. They didn't have a playmaker like Figo or Deco in the Ecuador team. Both were playing wide. There's always a reason behind everything."
Eriksson denied England have lacked an established
pattern in this tournament, were without pace on the flanks against Ecuador or that he is considering moving David Beckham to a more central position against Portugal, the latter two rebukes diminishing the prospects of the in-form Aaron Lennon starting in Gelsenkirchen.
The England manager also dismissed rumours that goalkeeper Paul Robinson's inauspicious command of his penalty area in Germany - a weakness highlighted by Portugal striker Pauleta this week - would prompt a surprise recall for David James. "No, no, no, Paul Robinson will start the game on Saturday, he has my absolute confidence," Eriksson said. "That [Pauleta's comment] is a mind game, I suppose, and I am not interested in mind games."
The England manager confessed he will be consumed by tension before his third quarter-final at international level, although that is merely an inherent part of his nature rather than a reaction to confronting Scolari, who knocked him out of the 2002 World Cup and the last European Championship. "I don't get nervous but I do get tense on a match day, especially when you arrive at the stadium," Eriksson said. "You arrive one and a half hours before and there's nothing to do. You can't speak for one hour to the players so you sit there drinking tea." On Scolari, he said: "I don't feel it's me against [him]. You will never put that in my head."
Historic and recent rivalries could yet define England's passage to the World Cup final, with Brazil, Argentina or Germany potentially lying in wait for Eriksson's team. "I believe in fate," said the Swede at the prospect of avenging his quarter-final defeats by Scolari. "But I believe in preparation. If you are very well prepared you have better luck than if you are not."
Such pragmatism characterises Eriksson, and it is the reason why he remains unflustered by the team's form. Eriksson added: "You try to play good football but what's absolutely the most important thing is to win the game. Here they don't give you a premium for beautiful football. I'm very happy to be in the position we are. You see Ghana play wonderful football, Ivory Coast plays wonderful football, the Netherlands, Spain. And where are they now? They're at home."Reuse content