Injured Cole to miss England's week of World Cup destiny

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The Independent Football

With Luke Young already deputising for Gary Neville on the right, Eriksson must now decide how to reconfigure his entire defence with Jamie Carragher, Phil Neville and Kieran Richardson among those named by the England manager as possible replacements for Cole. He already has to make a difficult decision over which centre-back pairing to pick out from John Terry, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, and has also lost David Beckham to two days' training after one of the England captain's sons fell ill yesterday.

Michael Owen's dead leg has also meant that the Newcastle striker will be unable to train until tomorrow, leaving Eriksson with a start to the week he will not consider ideal. Ashley Cole has not missed an England international since the friendly against Sweden in Gothenburg in March 2004 and the last competitive fixture he sat out was the Euro 2004 qualifier against Liechtenstein at Old Trafford in September 2003.

A crucial, if understated performer for England, Cole's absence - likely to last a month --has caused Eriksson to call up Liverpool's Stephen Warnock for the Austria game and the Poland match on 12 October. Against Sweden, over 18 months ago, it was Carragher who played in Cole's place yet there is no player among the replacements who offers the same pace and attacking qualities as the 24-year-old.

Arsenal are not certain at what stage of the season the stress fracture became serious and Cole played a full game against Birmingham City on Sunday and was later pictured at Jermain Defoe's birthday party that night. Eriksson said that the player he described as "the best left-back in the world" would be difficult to replace, especially now that he has Gary Neville out for a further five weeks with a groin injury he picked up in Manchester United's Champions' League qualifier against Debrecen.

Eriksson said: "Many times when you have injuries it is among players of the same position and now we have two full-backs out, so that is a pity.

"Kieran Richardson is an option. We have Phil Neville who could do it or Jamie Carragher - he did it many years ago for Liverpool."

Beckham will join up with the England squad in Manchester tonight, ahead of Saturday's match against Austria, after his three-year-old son Romeo was taken ill yesterday and spent last night in hospital. "I haven't spoken to him about it yet," Eriksson said. "I think it will be OK and he won't have any worries about what is happening in Spain."

Eriksson was confident that Owen would be fit in time to train with the team tomorrow, but up until now his preparation for the match against Austria, for which Wayne Rooney is suspended, has been limited to light running sessions. "I hope Owen will be fit," Eriksson said. "They are quite sure he will be OK for Thursday morning."

As well as the question of the left-back role, the problem of having three fit, experienced centre-halves is likely to dominate the week's build-up. Eriksson refused any invitation to comment on Ferdinand's form this season after the Manchester United defender struggled against Fulham on Saturday.

"I have seen him [Ferdinand] in many games this season and I think he is playing well, as are Campbell and Terry," Eriksson said. "I know he has been criticised because of the two goals against Fulham. I saw them on television and Tord [Grip] was there to see it.

"It will be difficult to leave out any of them, not just Ferdinand, but Terry and Campbell. Of course it is a big decision to take and one of them will be disappointed - I am sure about that."

Once he has decided on his defence, and Eriksson could switch Carragher to right-back in order to allow for a less experienced left-back, possibly Richardson, the Swede will have to turn his attention to the formation England play.

The 4-5-1 system is unlikely to survive the disastrous defeat in Northern Ireland last month and Eriksson confirmed that he will "probably" switch to 4-4-2, although he would not confirm that Peter Crouch would partner Owen in attack against Austria.

The spectre of the defeat at Windsor Park still hangs over Eriksson's preparations and the Swede said that he had not shown his players the video of the game. as he did with the recording of the Denmark defeat in August, because he wanted to leave that match in the past. Dealing with the consequences of the defeat had, he said, been more difficult for him than the players.

"No one has been happy with the last game we have played and I have not been happy, so of course we have to play better football," Eriksson said. "We have to play better because otherwise we are risking not winning these games, but we will play better on Saturday.

"As I told the players, for them the time between the games goes much more quickly. They have other things to think about, they have other games in between. The job I have, I have a lot of time to think about the game [against Northern Ireland]. I have watched it again twice from two different camera angles and I can tell you that it hasn't been any better."

The Cole hole Who can fill in?

STEPHEN WARNOCK (Liverpool, age 23, caps 0)

Potential but no international experience. Has played in Champions' League qualifiers this season.

JAMIE CARRAGHER (Liverpool, 27, 20)

Has played full-back before but more a central defender. Would not offer Cole's attacking threat but would be the solid choice.

KIERAN RICHARDSON (Manchester Utd, 20, 3)

A winger by trade but has filled in at left-back because of injuries at Old Trafford. Is confident enough to play anywhere.

PHIL NEVILLE (Everton, 28, 52)

Has been a holding midfielder for Everton but has played full-back for former club Manchester United. Versatility is his strength.