It appears we were misled. England's 4-1 victory over the Netherlands in Euro 96, their finest performance in 20 years and Terry Venables's crowning glory, was not the result that went around the world. Indeed, it appears it did not even penetrate as far as Genoa.
The Italian port is where Sven Goran Eriksson was living at the time, as coach of Sampdoria, and he confessed yesterday that he could not recall England's fabled victory.
Asked about the match in expectation that he would wax lyrical, the press were stunned to hear Eriksson respond: "I don't remember that game. Maybe I watched it but I don't remember the details. It was not particularly interesting for me – I never thought in '96 that I would be England manager." In mitigation Eriksson pointed out he had seen many matches since, but this is a diplomatic excuse. The reality is that, for men like Eriksson, it takes more than the occasional sparkling performance to secure a place in history, it takes the compilation of achievements such as that created by France in recent years.
It is with a view to nudging England in that direction that Eriksson approaches tonight's international with the Netherlands at White Hart Lane, England's first match against them since 1996. It may be a prestige friendly but both sides view the match as a means to an end. The Dutch have a crucial World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland on 1 September; England, the same day, must win in Munich to maintain hope of qualifying automatically for 2002.
The lessons learned tonight will be limited by the constraints imposed by a fixture list which has the Premiership starting three days after this game. Eriksson, to assuage the leading managers, is likely to use all 20 outfield players he has left at his disposal following yesterday's withdrawal of Nicky Butt and Emile Heskey with knee injuries.
Since Eriksson said it will not be a case of using his first team in the first half, and the second string in the second, the leading points of interest will be positional. Foremost among these will the midfield positions of anchor and left flank. While Steven Gerrard is the preferred choice as the holding midfielder, his vulnerability to injury means an understudy must be identified. Nicky Butt usually fulfils that role but his injury offers an opportunity for Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Jamie Carragher or, most intriguingly, Owen Hargreaves.
The Bayern Munich midfielder would definitely be involved said Eriksson. Har- greaves could also play on the left flank though, with Steve McManaman and Heskey absent, Nicky Barmby is favoured, returning to a role he filled with distinction in Eriksson's first match. Right-back, where the Neville brothers are vying for the same position is also of interest.
Those who see football as soap opera will prefer to concentrate on the forward line where Michael Owen has a choice of partners. Logic suggests Eriksson will want to pair him with Robbie Fowler, who may then link with Andy Cole on the basis that neither are playing at club level so both can be given a decent outing.
Eriksson, it was claimed yesterday, had advised Fowler to move to Lazio and recommended him to Italian clubs. He denied both charges though he said Italian teams constantly asked him about English players and he always told them how good those players were. Eriksson was less affirmative when it came to discussing whether Cole and Fowler needed to play Premiership matches to be in contention for the Germany game. It was, he suggested, something he would deal with if the problem arose but he did not believe it would. He was less shy about the day's other controversy. The Dutch may play Frank de Boer and Edgar Davids, though both are suspended from competitive matches for drug offences. Eriksson not only said he had no problem with them playing, he said he believed they were innocent and should not have been banned. Eriksson, noting that Fernando Couto, who played under him at Lazio, had also been found guilty of taking nandrolone, said: "I don't believe they have taken something on purpose. I can't believe that. It is maybe not right that they are banned."
Since the whole issue of drug-taking has long been seen as peripheral to English football there is little likelihood of a Paula Radcliffe-style protest. Any complaints are more likely to be from club managers unhappy at the timing of a match which could involve 32 Premiership players. This is the first time England have played an international in August and with even 'the ice man' melting in the heat of the press tent yesterday it was not hard to see why.
But England's record in September internationals – one away win, in Moldova, in nine attempts over the last 21 years – makes it imperative. Never mind tonight's result, we will not know the worth of this match until 1 September.Reuse content