Eriksson: 'I would like to see them play like this every time'

Click to follow

If Gerard Houllier, seated in the Main Stand at Anfield, needed confirmation of his belief that England have perhaps the finest set of young players in Europe, this was it.

Last night's emphatic defeat of an outclassed Paraguay was not just the perfect send-off before England depart for the Far East, it was a happy portent for the squad which should leave for Germany in four years' time.

"David Beckham is not the only good footballer in England," Eriksson replied with a thin smile when asked how Steven Gerrard had replaced the nation's icon on the right flank. Gerrard did excellently, delivering a different type of cross from the one Beckham trades in, but then so did Joe Cole, Darius Vassell, Wayne Bridge and, of course, Michael Owen. All provided the "fire on the pitch" Eriksson thought had been lacking since they assured their place in the World Cup finals at Old Trafford six months ago.

"After the qualification against Greece we could have done better. Here, we saw the will to fight, the will to win, the right level of concentration. I told them on Monday I wanted better. I would like to see them play like this every time we come together."

After the 2-1 defeat to Italy last month, Cole had left Elland Road genuinely upset at the error which gifted the visitors their first goal. Some said he still appeared too immature but at Anfield he found redemption in a dazzling 45 minutes.

"He took the right decisions tonight," said the England coach. "He played safe when he had to and took risks in the right place. Joe Cole has always been a special player, full of fantasy."

For Michael Owen the script passed the boundaries of belief. Having scored on his debut for Liverpool, it seemed perfectly natural the young man Eriksson calls "a clean killer" should have found the net in his fourth minute of leading England – and on his home ground.

The manner in which he did so, heading home in a crowded area, was reminiscent of one of his predecessors as England captain, Alan Shearer, and it was the only one not scored with assistance from a Paraguay side which hardly looked like a team which is expected to progress in the World Cup finals.

Their coach, Cesare Maldini, has known Eriksson for many years and the team that carved his side apart seemed to him like one fashioned in the Swede's image. "We played against a team that was in a superior class," he said. "It is clear that they are one of the favourites for the World Cup; we were slightly unlucky because some of the goals were deflected but their victory was well-deserved. You can clearly see the hand of Eriksson in this team. I know him well; he has a lot of confidence in young players."

The only one not to impress was Kieron Dyer, the player Eriksson was most anxious to see. Perhaps the midfielder was too over-eager but last night Dyer was not even the most impressive Newcastle player on the pitch. That honour fell to Diego Gavilan, who holds the queasy distinction of being Bobby Robson's worst buy at St James' Park.

Having waited so long to see Dyer in an England shirt, it was surprising that Eriksson should have given this richly-talented midfielder only one half to stake his claim for the World Cup. He explained that it was to conserve Dyer's energy and that, in any case, he knew his capabilities. "I have picked my squad many times and changed my mind many times," he said. "This has made my choice harder and that is good."