King keeps it simple to complicate coach's plans

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The Independent Football

Last night it was Ledley King's turn to promote confusion, on his 14th appearance for England, with a display that underlined the value of a defensive mind in a midfield peppered with individual excellence but lacking cohesive purpose. In the ideal world of the Tottenham captain, however, the man selected for this unifying task in the future would not be him.

The 24-year-old started his career with a Sunday League team called Senrab that contained such alumni as John Terry, Paul Konchesky and Jloyd Samuel. It is reunion with Terry in the heart of the England defence, or any of his competitors from the capital for that matter, that remains King's ultimate ambition and though he advanced his midfield claims against Poland he also, unwittingly, promoted the cause of those such as Scott Parker who perform the role more regularly than he at club level.

It was Steven Gerrard's misfortune to miss this victory with the shin injury sustained against Austria, but to both his and Frank Lampard's relief that on Saturday they combined to such welcome effect that the issue of their compatibility has been placed on hold.

Had they not belatedly turned their outstanding credentials into an effective midfield partnership in the penultimate game in Group Six then the silent debate about replacing one of them with a custom-built holder would undoubtedly have arisen; not that Eriksson would entertain the notion, preferring to polish his diamond once again instead. Gerrard selflessly sacrificed the drive he gives to Liverpool to allow Lampard to attack Austria and, unless the Chelsea man is ordered to return the compliment, it is a duty to which he will have to become accustomed in England colours.

King may have asked his former director of football David Pleat to abandon the idea of converting him into a central midfielder, but he has not forgotten the instructions he received during his 12 games in that role for Tottenham. He showed, as Gerrard had on Saturday, that for all of its ugly connotations, the role of the water carrier is essential to the international cause.

The Tottenham captain gave possession away with his first nervous touch, but improved immeasurably thereafter, adhering to the principle of allowing more expressive players to find the beautiful passes as he kept everything simple and nullified Poland's occasional breaks.

Fine interventions prevented Radoslaw Sobolewski and Borussia Dortmund's Emi Smolarek from testing Paul Robinson from the edge of the England area and king remained a confident, assured presence throughout, and could even have had an early goal with a more alert reaction when the ball dropped at his feet from a Lampard corner.

The only problem is, while he may be prepared to accept any role he gets from Eriksson, he is unlikely to receive the practice at club level to keep rivals such as Parker and Michael Carrick out of the frame for the rest of the season.

'We are one of four or five teams who can win it'

The English restoration arrived at Old Trafford last night, not for the benefit of a manager whose faith in his team has never wavered but for an expectant public who, Sven Goran Eriksson insisted, can now share his vision of a World Cup triumph in Germany next summer.

Though Michael Owen and Frank Lampard claimed the goals that secured England's place at the top of Group Six it was a performance of purpose and intent that convinced Eriksson to declare that the dark days of Denmark and Northern Ireland had gone, to be replaced by an optimism that will develop over the next eight months.

His doubters will not be sated on the back of one fine display in five, but Eriksson was keen to seize the positives last night: "I think that is a performance that will convince the fans that we can win the World Cup. It may not convince everyone, but, hopefully, the fans can see. I always said we would qualify and that we would then go on to a good World Cup.

"We are one of the four or five teams that can win it with a bit of luck, but I am convinced that this is a very good team. I think we did a good job on Saturday and we went on and did an extremely good job tonight."

Owen took his tally to 25 goals in 50 appearances for Eriksson with a 43rd-minute tap-in, his 33rd international goal in total, and though the Polish substitute Tomasz Frankowski equalised with the final kick of the first half England maintained their control and shape to triumph when Lampard converted a flowing move 10 minutes from time.

It was Wayne Rooney, however, who was England's outstanding figure, venting the frustrations of his suspension against Austria in a marvellous display.

"He is young, only 19, and he has 27 caps. That is absolutely incredible," Eriksson said. "He is not a talent any more, he is a world-class football player, that's it, and he can get even better."

The only negative for Eriksson and England was the response to his 67th-minute substitution of Shaun Wright-Phillips for Peter Crouch, with the Liverpool forward subjected to a chorus of abuse as he entered the pitch. Eriksson said: "I don't know who was booed, him or me, but we won. I'm sorry if someone doesn't think Peter Crouch is a good football player, I think he is. He is very important to us, he gives us something different and it is very harsh to judge him after one and a half games."