Keegan determined England will be positive

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A FORMER member of those infamous World Cup television panels once revealed that when the cameras were on the matches, rather than the pundits, it was a case of ties loosened, jackets off and enough industrial language to make Gazza blush.

A FORMER member of those infamous World Cup television panels once revealed that when the cameras were on the matches, rather than the pundits, it was a case of ties loosened, jackets off and enough industrial language to make Gazza blush.

So it may be with Kevin Keegan today. In public, at 4.15pm in the Banqueting Suite at the Stadium of Light, he will be the embodiment of composure. For 90 minutes beforehand, in a television room at the ground, he will be enduring a private agony which will end in either despair or joy.

Keegan, like thousands of English football fans in pubs and homes throughout the country, will today pay closer attention to a match involving Sweden and Poland than ever before. England's prospects of securing a second chance at qualifying for next summer's finals of the European Championship rest on the match between the pair in Stockholm this afternoon.

A Swedish win and it will be off to Aachen, Germany, for Wednesday's play-off draw. Scotland and Slovenia are among possible opponents along with, maybe, France or Cyprus.

A point or more for Poland and tomorrow's Nationwide friendly between England and Belgium at Sunderland will be downgraded from a useful play- off warm-up to a largely academic first step in the qualifying programme for the 2002 World Cup.

"The next World Cup may seem a long way off but it isn't," said Keegan this week. But it is: Fifa do not even make the draw for the qualifiers until December. The fact that Belgium are one of the co-hosts, with the Netherlands, for next summer's tournament would only rub in the pointlessness of tomorrow's exercise.

Of course, it will not be meaningless for Steve Guppy, Frank Lampard, Trevor Sinclair or Richard Wright should they make their international debuts. Kevin Phillips and Michael Gray would relish the experience of playing for their country on their club ground, while Dennis Wise and Paul Ince are desperate to signal their return to the international stage.

Since reading Keegan's mind is difficult enough even when his aims are clear, it is extremely risky attempting to assess which of these players may be selected. Certainly Ince will play if England are in the play-offs - it was thought that Lampard would replace him if they are not - but that seems less likely after the pair played in harness in training yesterday.

The training ground partnership of Phillips and Alan Shearer, with Guppy on the left wing, would seem to make sense, while it will be interesting to see which position Kieron Dyer is given this time especially as a move to 3-5-2 is mooted.

Keegan was non-committal about the make-up of his team yesterday, but stressed: "Whatever happens in Stockholm I still want to win and I want us to play well."The worst possible scenario would be the Stockholm result not going well and then a lacklustre performance.

"That would be unacceptable for me. It will be a real test of character for players if the other result hasn't gone right."

The day will also be an examination for Sunderland, who are hoping to stage further internationals while Wembley is being rebuilt and cement their claim as a possible World Cup host.

The game has been sold out for a long time and Keegan said: "I expect a fantastic atmosphere whatever Saturday's result."

While Keegan will head for the North-east straight after training at Bisham Abbey this morning, the team will travel in the early evening having watched the Sweden game at their Berkshire hotel.

Keegan added in hope: "At least our fate is in the hands of a team which I think is worthy of our expectations. I can see them finishing off the group in the right way."

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