Eriksson sticks with the tried and tested

Click to follow
The Independent Football

"Back these losers - they are the best we have." That was one way of interpreting Sven Goran Eriksson's team-sheet for tonight's international friendly with Ukraine and while it was an unduly harsh verdict it also appears an increasingly common one.

"Back these losers - they are the best we have." That was one way of interpreting Sven Goran Eriksson's team-sheet for tonight's international friendly with Ukraine and while it was an unduly harsh verdict it also appears an increasingly common one.

In choosing as near an unchanged side as player availability allowed the England manager reiterated his faith in the team which reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2004. The only new face is Alan Smith, whose inclusion owes much to Wayne Rooney's injury, and something to both his own maturing game and the "tight hamstring" felt yesterday by Michael Owen's previous foil, Emile Heskey.

Otherwise, the XI is drawn from the squad which actually fulfilled most pre-European Championship expectations but now seems to be regarded as having failed. Nicky Butt, who spent the tournament struggling for fitness, replaces Paul Scholes who has retired from international football and Ledley King deputises for Sol Campbell. Butt's return is likely to mean the de facto return of the diamond midfield with Steven Gerrard moving to the left.

It is not a team designed to capture the imagination but it is one aimed at capturing the 2006 World Cup. Eriksson, while expressing the hope that more young players will follow Rooney's emergence, stressed the value of experience.

"Football is about continuity, it is dangerous to drop everybody just because you lose a match or go out of a tournament," he said. "The more time you have together the better you become. The difference between us and Portugal was nothing, you need a little luck and a little extra fitness. We are almost there. We are still a young team. The Greek team were much older than us," Eriksson added, glossing over the detail that most of the Euro 2004 victors were experiencing their first international tournament.

Eriksson dismissed suggestions that he is too loyal to his players, especially David Beckham who had a disappointing tournament. He said: "I don't pick players because I like them as persons. I pick them because I think they are the best. If I find a better player than Beckham I would pick them, but can you find one? I have picked this midfield because at the moment they are our four best midfielders."

Butt, who left Manchester United for Newcastle in the close season, was in good form, Eriksson said, and had always been selected by him when fit. Smith, he added, "has improved this season. He is playing more one-touch football and is not just standing and fighting the centre-half. He is showing better movement. He is unselfish and a good target man."

It is rare for Eriksson to name his team in advance, but ticket sales remain sluggish and, embarrassingly, St James' Park may be half-empty. In a further attempt to drum up interest he thus promised that the exciting talents Jermain Defoe and Shaun Wright-Phillips, and the Newcastle pair, Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Jenas, would get a run from the bench.

In Dyer's case Toon Army veterans are more likely to buy a ticket to jeer him after his weekend spat with Sir Bobby Robson. Callers and texters to local radio and newspapers were largely vitriolic, and Eriksson said: "I hope the fans have not forgotten what he has done in his time here because of one apparent incident."

He intends to play Dyer on the left, which is ironic given it was Robson's similar wish which provoked the row. While claiming he had not followed the issue Eriksson admitted: "If I told a player to play in a position, of course I would expect him to play there."

Ukraine, like Germany, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, have opted for a legendary striker to lead their national team. Joining Jürgen Klinsmann, Marco van Basten and Hristo Stoichkov in international management is Oleg Blokhin, the 1975 European Footballer of the Year. His team is based on past and present members of his old club Dynamo Kiev, notably Andriy Shevchenko. The Milan striker is coveted by Roman Abramovich and tonight John Terry, Chelsea's captain, may discover why.

Despite Shevchenko's threat England should have enough all-round strength to win but they will only quiet the increasing grumbles over Eriksson's command, and lift confidence for the World Cup qualifiers ahead, by doing so in style.

Comments