Eriksson turns to rookie pair in defence as England injury crisis deepens

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It would be no surprise if David James was among last night's insomniacs in the city that never sleeps. The Manchester City goalkeeper arrived in the United States seeking belated redemption for last September's error against Austria, the one which cost him his place in the England team, but suddenly found himself punching thin air as he charged from his goal at Soldier Field on Saturday.

It would be no surprise if David James was among last night's insomniacs in the city that never sleeps. The Manchester City goalkeeper arrived in the United States seeking belated redemption for last September's error against Austria, the one which cost him his place in the England team, but suddenly found himself punching thin air as he charged from his goal at Soldier Field on Saturday.

Had Landon Donovan's free-kick gone in, rather than hit the post, "Calamity" would have been the headline once again but while James may have avoided public humiliation he knows his gaffe will have registered with Sven Goran Eriksson.

The England manager said all the right things in the wake of Saturday's match, including promising to play James against Colombia tonight, but the goalkeeper's chances of replacing Paul Robinson are receding fast. Indeed, but for the inexperience of Chris Kirkland, Robert Green and Scott Carson, James would be in danger of dropping to third in line.

Saturday's flaky display was another disappointment for the man who is arguably the most naturally talented and athletic of all England's keepers. Having played 11 successive competitive internationals between the posts since replacing David Seaman in March 2003 he had not expected to lose his England place and was crudely vilified after doing so. When asked if he had anticipated waiting nine months for his next cap James replied this week: "I expected to play in the next match against Poland."

Instead, Robinson did and while James admits his replacement has done nothing to warrant being dropped he said it was frustrating to be out of the national team when his club form was excellent. Unfortunately he failed to take that form into Soldier Field. Tonight, then, represents a last chance to remind Eriksson of his quality

James is not the only player with plenty at stake in the Giants Stadium this evening. Only Ashley Cole and Michael Owen have little to play for. At right-back Glen Johnson must prove his temperament is sound. Given he could be up against Jair Benitez, a tempestuous left-back who has been dismissed in his last two matches, Johnson's equanimity could be tested. In the centre Wes Brown, who is expected to play despite missing training with a calf injury, has to improve on Saturday's display or could be overtaken in the pecking order by his partner, Zat Knight, who will be making his first start.

In midfield David Beckham would like to show the American public his inflated reputation is justified ­ "he's not a diva", Eriksson told the US press yesterday ­ while Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas are playing for places in the World Cup squad and Joe Cole for a spot in the starting XI.

Further forward, Peter Crouch should make his England debut after coming through training yesterday. "I'm really pleased," said Crouch who missed Saturday's match with an ankle injury. "It was 50-50 going into this final training session. I did have doubts about making it but I've come through. I will ice the ankle now but I'm confident I'll be fit.

"This is a big lift for me because on Friday I was devastated. It is not every day that you are in line for your England debut."

The Colombians also have Germany 2006 on their minds. This match is a warm-up for critical qualifiers against Peru and Ecuador next week. They are likely to include Juan Pablo Angel, the Aston Villa striker. Few other players will be familiar to English audiences but expect scouts to assess the performances of his strike partner Edixon Perea, a lively 21-year-old still playing in domestic football.

Colombia's strength is in defence with Galatasaray's goalkeeper Farid Mondragon protected by the uncompromising combination of Internazionale's Ivan Cordoba and Mario Yepes of Paris St-Germain. Reinaldo Rueda, the coach, is looking for a good performance not just to lift his players but also support back home ahead of the qualifiers. "If we play well it will motivate the people," he said, "but if we don't get a good result there's a chance that the public's lack of belief in the team will affect the atmosphere when we host Peru."

The atmosphere within the Giants Stadium will be closely monitored by a US Soccer Federation forever seeking signs of interest in their "un-American" sport. A gate of around 50,000 is expected. The question obsessing US Soccer is how many will stay on to watch Metrostars play Chicago Fire? Yes, England and Colombia are the warm-up act for a regular MLS game.

The other question is whether Becks and Co will be a tough act to follow for Fire's Ivan Guerrero, the Honduran who had an inconsequential spell at Coventry City, and Metrostars' 37-year-old Youri Djorkaeff?

England's probable team

 

1 James (Manchester C)

2 G Johnson (Chelsea)

3 Brown (Manchester U)

4 Knight (Fulham)

5 A Cole (Arsenal)

6 Beckham (Real Madrid)

7 Jenas (Newcastle U)

8 Carrick (Tottenham)

9 J Cole (Chelsea)

10 Owen (Real Madrid)

11 Crouch (Southampton)

Comments