Holding role is made for me, says Hargreaves

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The Independent Online

It is a perilous business making bold predictions about Sven Goran Eriksson's England but there is one certainty in Cologne tonight that the most conservative of gamblers would find hard to resist; it is now or never for Owen Hargreaves.

The midfield holding role he favours, and has had added reason to covet since the scepticism that greeted his initial inclusion in Eriksson's squad developed into jeers against Hungary and Paraguay, is finally his against Sweden.

In the anticipated absence of the rested Steven Gerrard the 25-year-old will have one chance to prove his worth and to restore balance to the England midfield at the base of a diamond formation that will render excuses for poor performance as inadmissible. So no pressure, then.

Hargreaves, thankfully, appears immune to the demands of his defining audition. In the two years since he last started a game for England - ominously a 1-0 defeat by Sweden - he has held his place at Bayern Munich, lost it only to injury, and collected two domestic doubles. He may be out of sight as far as his adopted country is concerned, but he is experienced enough in mind to appreciate what tonight's game represents for his international career.

"Steven is a wonderful player, one of the best I've ever played with, but there's pressure on me to perform in every game. I play for one of the biggest clubs in Europe week in, week out and had a lot of success. I haven't started a lot for England but I have for Bayern and can take comfort from those games. I'm confident I can do the job. That's my position, the holding role, making tackles and getting stuck in. I feel very confident doing that."

Hargreaves' last start came in a 1-0 friendly defeat in Gothenburg in April 2004 - "Jesus, I didn't know it was that long. I think I got man of the match in that one," he said - and in a midfield comprising himself, Gerrard, Alan Thompson and Nicky Butt.

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