Eriksson: 'He's a fantastic talent and ready for any stage'

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The Independent Online

Even England's famously ice-cool Swedish coach found it too hot for comfort in Coimbra yesterday afternoon. He felt that his team's performance suffered as a result of the 30-plus degrees and is grateful that the final match against Croatia on Monday takes place almost three hours later in the day.

Even England's famously ice-cool Swedish coach found it too hot for comfort in Coimbra yesterday afternoon. He felt that his team's performance suffered as a result of the 30-plus degrees and is grateful that the final match against Croatia on Monday takes place almost three hours later in the day.

As a first defeat by Switzerland in 23 years would have meant elimination, the heat was on long before the start and Sven Goran Eriksson said the players had been unusually tense, which contributed to the unconvincing first-half: "We were a little bit nervous, because it was a must-win game. We weren't as relaxed as we should be. Surprisingly in the first half we didn't keep the ball very well, when it was important in the heat not to give it away. My only explanation for that is that players without the ball didn't move very well."

With that caveat, Eriksson claimed to be pleased. "I'm very happy because the way we lost to France you never know what the reaction might be," he said.

"When you've played very well against France, you might think it will be a little bit easier against Switzerland, but it wasn't that way at all. Switzerland were better than us in the first half, more aggressive, and had more of the ball. But our second goal killed the game."

Wayne Rooney, who scored it, described that as the most important goal of his young career, though his description of his two strikes was typically straightforward: "Darius [Vassell] did well and I just hit it as hard as I could and it went in. And for the first one Mike Owen put the ball on me head and I couldn't miss." How simple the game must sometimes seem at 18.

"We could have played better but we won," Rooney added. "It's always great to break records but I just want to go on to do well for the team."

Eriksson said of him: "He's a fantastic talent and is ready for any stage. He'd played well against France and did even better today. I hope he goes on like that for the whole tournament and even after it."

What, though, of the occasionally misfiring Merseyside partnership with Michael Owen? "It's not the classic combination of one tall guy and one quick one," the head coach admitted. "But they've been doing very well together. Michael was much better today and I think we'll see better from him on Monday. Of course if we always put [long, high] balls up there, they'll struggle a bit."

Switzerland's coach Kobi Kuhn, one of the few men in the world as placid as Eriksson, was annoyed to have one of his team sent off for the second match in succession. He said of Bernt Haas's expulsion, which followed Johann Vogel's two yellow cards against Croatia: "We'd like to play 11 against 11 for once. To be reduced to 10 men made it very hard in this heat. But congratulations to England, who gave the stronger performance."

His press officer and translator, Pierre Benoit, was less gracious, offering the opinion (which nobody had asked for) that: "We'd like not to play with 10 men against 12. For the second goal there was a foul on Patrick Muller, as everyone has seen."

The match also saw England switch to a flat four in midfield. The England captain revealed: "The diamond formation was mentioned before the game, but we all decided and the manager decided that 4-4-2 was the best thing.

"The most important thing is that the manager listens to us. He sat all the midfielders down and asked what we felt best doing. He said: 'I'm the manager and I'll obviously make the final decision, but I'll listen to you as well'.

"We said the final decision was up to him but we felt more comfortable in a 4-4-2 formation."

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