Sven takes each scan as it comes in the long goodbye

Regardless of the Rooney bulletins, Berlin may be a final step too far but a Munich semi-final should be within reach for England's departing coach
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Virtually all football managers - Dario Gradi at Crewe's player factory being a rare exc-eption - are judged on results, and in the case of international managers, results in major tournaments. Graham Taylor went through a whole England season unbeaten but is remembered for failing to reach the 1994 World Cup finals; Robson will forever be the man who suffered misfortune at the unholy hand of Maradona and then from the penalty spot in Turin.

Eriksson, had he been forced to resign amid the fuss over Faria Alam in August 2004 or immediately the Fake Sheikh worked his wiles in January, would have gone down as a quarter-final man, whose talented crop of footballers should have done better than losing at that stage of his two tournaments to Brazil's 10 men and Portugal's hosts. Now he has another chance, albeit one that still risks being undermined by the absence of the most naturally blessed of this gifted generation.

Injuries are a part of football, but record books insist on ignoring them. Bare statistics do not record the absence of Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking until it was too late in 1982, or Bryan Robson's shoulder popping in and out of its socket to his namesake's dismay four years later; they do not say how badly blighted Taylor's squad were at Euro 92 or even how Eriksson had to set off to Japan without Gary Neville and Steven Gerrard. (And how bright would England's prospects look without that pair four years on?)

What is still not known, despite new optimism over Wayne Rooney's fitness, is whether Eriksson's talisman and greatest hope will be able to play any part in the finals, let alone a significant one. Sir Alex Ferguson will certainly demand greater assurances on Wednesday than a sighting of Rooney crossing a ball with both feet before waving him back to Germany with Manchester United's blessing. That is far and away the greatest negative on the balance sheet of the nation's hopes this weekend. Michael Owen's lack of sharpness is a secondary one, though the two taken together have been compounded by Eriksson's folly in his selection (or non-selection) of strikers.

Then there is the tinkering with formations and personnel, alarming not so much for the lateness of the hour (Sir Alf Ramsey tried three different wingers in the first three games of the 1966 tournament before dispensing with them altogether), as for a sense of futility: Jamie Carragher was tried, unsuccessfully, as a holding midfield player in the sixth of Eriksson's 62 matches and had not played there since until last Tuesday.

Yet there are positives, many of them, which tend to have become obscured from the moment Rooney was carried off at Stamford Bridge to the sound of United supporters mournfully chanting: "We've lost the World Cup". The defence is one of the reasons to be cheerful, assuming that Neville and Ashley Cole will be fully recovered to play their part in an admirably solid unit. In midfield, not only are David Beckham and Joe Cole in excellent form - the captain causing words to be eaten among those who wanted Shaun Wright-Phillips (who?) to replace him a matter of months ago - but there is an exciting option in Tottenham's Aaron Lennon as what the coaching courses now call an "impact substitute".

Peter Crouch, simultaneously more skilful and aggressive after a season at Anfield, had been earmarked for that role but will now start alongside - or towering above - Owen against a Paraguay side lively in attack but vulnerable at the back, especially against set-pieces. That demands the standard 4-4-2 formation with which Eriksson teams are most comfortable, and requires Gerrard and Frank Lampard to deliver the sort of partnership their footballing intelligence should permit. Then there are the conditions in which the tournament will be played, amid a German summer no warmer so far than Britain's, and after a longer break than English players normally enjoy. Mental boost as much as physical one, the extra week convinced the players they were fitter than normal for a June competition, and medical tests have confirmed it.

So to the first competitive matches since qualification was assured last autumn. It is a favourable list for England in favourable order. They will know, all being well, exactly what they will need to do in the final game against Sweden to top the table and ideally earn a highly winnable game against qualifying group opponents Poland - previously beaten at Old Trafford and in Katowice.

Even Germany at Munich in the second round would be more formidable as hosts than opposition, weighed down by the memory of that shocking 5-1 home defeat in Eriksson's finest hour. Ideally, England would avoid Argentina or Brazil for as long as possible, which could still be done as group winners by meeting and overcoming, say, Poland and then either an inexperienced Holland, Serbia & Montenegro or the Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals.

Best not get too carried away. Take each scan as it comes and go on from there. But regardless of how Rooney's turns out, if Berlin on 9 July is a step too far, a Munich semi-final might yet be within reach.

As for Eriksson, in a sense he cannot win, critics having convinced themselves that any success would be despite his contribution rather than because of it. "Hopefully I'll be remembered for World Cup 2006," England's first foreign coach declared on Friday. He will, one way or another.


Played 61 Won 36 Drawn 15 Lost 10


Germany 1 England 5 1 Sept 2001 (WC qual)

England 2 Greece 2 6 Oct 2001 (WC qual)

Argentina 0 England 1 7 June 2002 (WC 1st rnd)

Denmark 0 England 3 15 June 2002 (WC 2nd rnd)

England 2 Turkey 0 2 April 2003 (Euro qual)

Turkey 0 England 0 11 Oct 2003 (Euro qual)

Croatia 2 England 4 21 June 2004 (Euro 1st rnd)

England 2 Poland 1 12 Oct 2005 (WC qual)

Argentina 2 England 3 12 Nov 2005 (Friendly)


England 1 Brazil 2 21 June 2002 (WC Q-F)

England 2 Macedonia 2 16 Oct 2002 (Euro qual)

England 1 Australia 3 12 Feb 2003 (Friendly)

England 1 France 2 13 June 2004 (Euro 1st rnd)

England 2 Portugal 2 24 June 2004 (Euro Q-F)

Denmark 4 England 1 17 Aug 2005 (Friendly)

Northern Ireland 1 England 0 7 Sept 2005 (Euro qual)


England's opening games at European Championships and World Cups over the last two decades.

Euro 2004: England 1 France 2

WC 2002: England 1 Sweden 1

Euro 2000: England 2 Portugal 3

WC 98: England 2 Tunisia 0

Euro 96: England 1 Switzerland 1

Euro 92: England 0 Denmark 0

WC 90: England 1 Rep Ireland 1

Euro 88: England 0 Rep Ireland 1

WC 86: England 0 Portugal 1