After watching Newcastle play Manchester United this afternoon, Sven Goran Eriksson will name a squad of 23 for the "derby" games away to Wales on Saturday and Northern Ireland next Wednesday. He is categorical that the humiliating collapse in Copenhagen will not recur in a competitive game, so much so that if defeat were to ensue in either match, his position would become untenable.
The Football Association's chief executive, Brian Barwick, might feel obliged to repeat the support expressed in these pages last week, but the head coach would be forced to admit that he had failed to lift the team from the trough into which they sank a fortnight ago. "I have seen the tape, from a lot of different camera angles, and can confirm what I said, that it was a disaster in the second half," Eriksson said of the 4-1 defeat in Denmark. "We were sloppy, losing shape and not aggressive. It was embarrassing for the team and myself, and the four or five thousand fans who bought expensive tickets.
"So myself and the coaching staff have the job of trying to get it right before we play Wales, and we will. It has never happened in a qualifying game and it will not happen in Wales or Northern Ireland. I trust the players."
Does that trust extend to James, whose admission that he had not prepared properly for his 45 minutes in the Parken Stadium was taken by many as a suicide note after 33 international appearances? Eriksson may just have been swayed by James telephoning him to apologise; his natural inclination is rarely to cast players aside, and a pragmatic man might also wish to wait until the qualifying games are over before turning to Chris Kirkland, who is only just finding his Premiership feet again with West Bromwich Albion. Everton's Nigel Martyn would be a 39-year-old stopgap, but has told Eriksson he does not want to sit on the bench.
There will need to be one or two changes from the last squad as, worryingly, Manchester United's Gary Neville will miss both games and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard is doubtful. The groin injury Neville sustained in a Champions' League qualifying game last Wednesday means that Eriksson must decide whether to risk pitting Chelsea's right-back Glen Johnson, one of the worst performers in Copenhagen, against Ryan Giggs.
Neville's brother Phil, settling in well at Everton, is another candidate, but he might be needed in his club role as the holding midfielder should Gerrard fail to recover. Encouragingly for Johnson, though not his many detractors, Eriksson's assistant, Tord Grip, saw him play "rather well" against feeble opposition in West Bromwich Albion four days ago. United's Wes Brown should benefit from Gary Neville's absence and return to the squad.
Kieron Dyer, injured again, may miss out, though he would not have started the game. The question to be resolved in midfield is whether to cover for Joe Cole's unpredictable performances as a wide man by reverting to a diamond for- mation. Eriksson believes that Frank Lampard can play as the deepest man in that formation, though he also mentioned Phil Neville, Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick, Newcastle's Scott Parker - who could do with another good game this afternoon - and, intriguingly, Nicky Butt, who has largely been written off since moving to Birmingham.
In the comfortable home victory over Wales last autumn, Wayne Rooney was used to good effect in the hole behind two strikers, Jermain Defoe and Michael Owen, but that is not an option on Saturday as the latter is suspended.
Telephoning Soho Square on Thursday afternoon, while Liverpool, Newcastle and Real Madrid considered his future, Owen was "very calm as ever" according to Eriksson, who added: "He's worried about club football, but also the national team. It's World Cup year and he's 26, a golden age. We talked for 10 minutes and I understand his worries."
Peter Crouch would be the most useful fourth striker, for the different option his height offers, but his fitness is also in doubt, so Andy Johnson and Alan Smith - now cleared to play by United - will hope for a telephone call this evening. If there are other injuries, or later withdrawals, the option exists to call up players from the Under-21s, notably midfielders Stewart Downing and Kieran Richardson, and the Charlton striker Darren Bent.
Whoever plays against Wales, the important thing will be to match the fervour of the opposing players and crowd, after which class should out, and victory will be expected as comfortably as the 2-0 success at Old Trafford, when the main talking point turned out to be David Beckham's admission of deliberately collecting a booking.
Beckham, whose superb contribution to Rooney's late goal in Denmark was understandably downplayed in the circumstances, is among those adamant that the subsequent criticism will have a positive effect this week: "It could have been worse, it could have been a qualifying game," he said.
"We can't let our confidence be knocked too much by that game. It has to be forgotten now, this team have the potential and experience to do well. If anything, it was a bit of a wake-up call for the Wales game.
"Everyone's talking about the excitement of the World Cup, but we've got a lot of work to do to get it right. The players were disappointed and angry, yes. You want to win, not just feel for the rest of the country and the team but for the fans who've paid a lot of money. The only thing I can promise them is that we'll do it in the games that matter."
Chelsea's John Terry, certain to be alongside Rio Ferdinand in defence as long as both stay fit, was singing from the same patriotic song-sheet: "Obviously the lads were very disappointed. I'm the same in training and I know a lot of the other lads are as well, I just hate losing.
"Everyone's saying it was a friendly and we weren't too bothered, but we really were bothered and it hurt a lot, especially [losing] like that. But these are the two important ones and if we get six points out of these, hopefully Denmark will all be forgotten."Reuse content