That's settled: England's team for 2006

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The Independent Online

There are 12 months left before the next World Cup and every England fan can reel off Sven Goran Eriksson's starting XI within 15 seconds. It will be a team full of high achievers, of genuine world stars perfectly poised at an average age of 26. It sounds ideal.

And for a generation of English fans raised on failure, that can only serve to make them suspicious. Robinson, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole, Owen and Rooney. Shifting any of those will be difficult. Terry has to play ahead of Campbell, who has also lost his place in Arsenal's side. Joe Cole is the only vulnerable outfield player, but not if he performs for Chelsea next season, as he did for the final four months of the last.

It would not be too pessimistic to say that at least one of that XI will miss out with injury, but equally that someone new will force their way into the reckoning by virtue of what they do this season. There is trusted cover at centre-back and in attack, but not much at full-back or in central midfield.

Which brings us to the manager. By the time Eriksson poses for the farewell picture on the steps of the plane to Germany he will have been in charge of the England team for around five and a half years. The prospect of two months under the Swedish coach will no longer seem like a novelty for the England players, in fact it will be a well-worn, familiar regime.

If these are to be Eriksson's last days in charge, the key question will be whether he can persuade this group of players that their moment has come. It is difficult not to believe in the talent of his team. What shakes the faith are the age-old fears: the ghosts of 1966, and the heavy, suffocating expectation of an English nation gripped in the heat of another World Cup summer, praying for success and yet resigned to failure.

Eriksson's first-choice XI

1 Robinson (Tottenham)

2 G Neville (Man Utd)

3 A Cole (Arsenal)

4 Terry (Chelsea)

5 Ferdinand (Man Utd)

7 Beckham (Real Madrid)

6 Lampard (Chelsea)

8 Gerrard (Liverpool)

9 Rooney (Man Utd)

10 Owen (Real Madrid)

11 J Cole (Chelsea)

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