Sven Goran Eriksson singled out David James for praise after England's victory over Croatia here last night as he admitted that the apparently convincing scoreline had somewhat flattered his side, who have now won their last six matches. It was a huge vote of confidence for the goalkeeper, now playing in the Nationwide League after West Ham United's relegation.
The England coach also paid tribute to his captain David Beckham's "world-class delivery" which created the first two goals through crosses to Michael Owen. "I think that is why Real Madrid wanted him," Eriksson said. "It is good to see him back in England again. As always he is very proud to be captain of England."
Beckham agreed that James who was adjudged to be man of the match had been forced to make vital saves, especially at the end of the first half.
"It is always nice to get a win whether it is a qualifying game or a friendly and we played some good football at the start," Beckham said. When asked about his own, now prolific, scoring record at international level (11 goals, 10 since being made captain 25 games ago), he added ruefully: "There have been quite a few penalties and free-kicks." Such moments, of course, are what he is there for.
James said: "Croatia are a decent side. They had opportunities to punish us and did keep us on our toes."
Eriksson, meanwhile, added: "It was a good result. We started the game very well but in the second part of the first half I don't think we played very well. Maybe there were too many long balls. The team was stretched and they came into the game very well and created two or three good chances and David James was super on those occasions."
He continued: "In the second half we came out and kept the ball very well with more combinations. So for 20 minutes it was not that good but in a friendly we have to accept that and hopefully we learn from the small mistakes we made.
"We created a lot of chances as well over the 90 minutes but it is difficult to defend very well if the team is very stretched out. It has always been like that in football and it will always be like that."
The England coach again indulged in his controversial policy of mass substitutions (only John Terry played the full 90 minutes) but defended the decision, saying he "did not care" if he came in for criticism. "It is the only chance we have of seeing players in different positions," he said.
Nevertheless Eriksson appeared to indicate that last night's starting 11 will virtually remain intact for the crucial Euro 2004 qualifiers against Macedonia and Leichtenstein next month, which will raise much debate over the defensive soundness of his line-up.
"Maybe, yes. I think so," he said when asked if he knew which team he would play. "At least nine or 10 of the 11. But I must say those players coming on in the second half did very well. Kieron Dyer as the second striker was excellent today and I don't think the 'goal' he scored was offside."
The Croatian coach, Otto Baric, was less effusive about his players, saying afterwards that a number would be dropped from his young squad after what he said was a mistake-ridden performance.