Eriksson stumbles upon Plan C

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson claimed his latest tactical experiment had been vindicated by victory over the no-longer mighty Magyars of Hungary last night, despite an unconvincing first-half performance that raised more questions than answers about the line-up the Swede will select for the World Cup.

Steven Gerrard waited until a vastly improved second half to open the scoring and confirm his suitability for the role of the second striker behind Michael Owen, with John Terry and an impressive late finish from substitute Peter Crouch completing the 3-1 triumph in the friendly.

With Eriksson having elected to field a 4-1-4-1 formation as he attempts to compensate for the potential loss of Wayne Rooney in Germany, the England manager drew satisfaction from Gerrard's 47th-minute opener and the performance of the Liverpool captain in a more adventurous role, although it was the eventual evolution of the new system that he claimed as the highlight of the night and suggested would be maintained for the opening World Cup game against Paraguay on 10 June.

Eriksson, who saw the Hungarian keeper Gabor Kiraly save a first-half penalty from Frank Lampard, said: "We talked at half-time about having to be more patient and needing to win the ball a bit higher. Every time we lost the ball in the first half they started to attack and they did it very well. They did very well to get nine men behind the ball all the time and it was difficult to find space, but overall it was a good result with nice goals for us and a very nice goal for Hungary.

"There were more positives than negatives and we can do better, but I'm happy. I thought Steven Gerrard played excellently, but wherever I put Steven Gerrard he plays well. He is a complete football player, he can do everything defensively and offensively."

While the formation is likely to remain in place in Frankfurt, the personnel may change as Eriksson moved Jamie Carragher to right-back within 45 minutes of his new lease of life as a holding midfielder.

"I know what the team is going to be against Paraguay but I don't want to discuss the line-up with anyone except my coaches," added the Swede.

"It was not my plan to change at half-time, but Gary Neville had a problem with his hamstring and I took him off as a precaution. I also wanted to see Owen Hargreaves in midfield. Carragher did well in the first half and it was good for him to try both positions before the World Cup.

"I think they both [Carragher and Hargreaves] did well and we have [Michael] Carrick, who played last week. So we have very good options."

Michael Owen missed two good chances to score his first goals of the year but Eriksson insisted: "I'm not worried about Michael Owen. I have known him for five years, actually more than that. It is very important that he had a game last week, here today and on Saturday. When it's the World Cup the music is always different with Michael Owen. It's always been like that. He didn't go into half tackles today and I agree with that, but he will when it's the World Cup."

Eriksson was also full of praise for Theo Walcott, saying: "He wins confidence every time he trains and plays with us. In a World Cup we won't see him from the beginning but with the pace he showed again tonight he will be useful."

Eriksson also defended David Beckham after the England captain made the opening goals for Gerrard and Terry. Eriksson said: "What do you want me to say about David Beckham that you haven't already heard? I have never understood the criticism. The assets he has you can't find in all the world. He's not a dribbler like many players but he doesn't need to be. He just puts the ball in there."

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