Southgate and Upson pay the price for defensive unease

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The Independent Football

Gareth Southgate's long England career, and Matthew Upson's fledgling one, have been cast into doubt after Sven Goran Eriksson dropped both players from his England squad.

The pair had been central-defensive partners at the Riverside Stadium for England's last match but neither will be at Ipswich for Wednesday's friendly with Croatia. Their absence from the 24-man squad is partly due to the return from injury of Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate but it also reflects a poor display in the June European Championship qualifier. Slovakia repeatedly opened up the home defence and only insipid finishing enabled England to escape with victory.

Eriksson's dissatisfaction is highlighted by the retention of John Terry, who has only one substitute appearance to his name. Terry was on the bench at the Riverside.

While Upson is young enough to return, Southgate's axing looks more ominous. The Middlesbrough captain, 33 next month, won the first of his 55 caps in the build-up to Euro '96. He impressed in the tournament despite missing the critical penalty against Germany but has rarely been certain of his place since.

Instead, he has been a steady understudy, consistent but not commanding. His prospects have inevitably been hampered by his failure to play Champions' League football but, despite interest from Manchester United this summer, he was not prepared to provoke a move.

Also dropped are Jermaine Jenas and Gareth Barry, who return to the Under-21s, Jamie Carragher, despite retaining his club place yesterday, and Ian Walker.

The latter is replaced by Chris Kirkland of Liverpool. Though Kirkland has yet to play a senior match since suffering a cruciate ligament injury in January he is, at 22, nine years Walker's junior and clearly the better prospect.

Wayne Rooney, though a substitute for Everton at Highbury on Saturday, has been given more time to recuperate from ligament damage. With Darius Vassell also injured, Francis Jeffers chosen for the Under-21s and Alan Smith omitted, Eriksson is down to three fit strikers, Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and James Beattie.

He has plenty of midfielders though, led by David Beckham who returns after suspension despite not playing a serious match for Real Madrid this season. Danny Murphy, Nicky Butt, Trevor Sinclair and Kieron Dyer also return after injury. For Dyer it will be a chance to demonstrate his progress since leaving Portman Road four years ago.

Chelsea's Glen Johnson, despite the absence of Gary Neville, has had to settle for an Under-21 call-up. This suggests Danny Mills could receive a chance to redeem himself after a shocker against Slovakia, especially as Owen Hargreaves is doubtful after he picked up a groin injury in Bayern Munich's 2-0 win over Bochum on Saturday. Phil Neville is a possible alternative.

The match is a warm-up for the 6 September Euro 2004 qualifier in Macedonia. The usual raft of substitutes is expected with few players, if any, playing 90 minutes. This practice has prompted criticism but, given that the match falls in the middle of a busy opening to the Premiership season, it is inevitable. Besides, supporters seem unconcerned. Mass substitutions are now customary with England, but the game was still sold out within hours.

ENGLAND SQUAD for friendly against Croatia (20 August): James (West Ham), Robinson (Leeds Utd), Kirkland (Liverpool); Mills (Leeds Utd), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Arsenal), P Neville (Man Utd), Bridge (Chelsea), Campbell (Arsenal), Woodgate (Newcastle Utd); Beckham (Real Madrid, captain), Gerrard (Liverpool), Scholes (Man Utd), Sinclair (Man City), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Lampard, J Cole (both Chelsea), Butt (Man Utd), Dyer (Newcastle Utd), Murphy (Liverpool); Heskey, Owen (both Liverpool), Beattie (Southampton).