Their moment of truth

'We definitely need to win something pretty quick. This could be our year. A draw wouldn't be bad, but we want to win it' David Beckham
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The Independent Online

As England prepared to square up to France here this evening in their first tournament match since losing the World Cup quarter-final to Brazil just under two years ago, the head coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, predicted it would be a "great" competition, but stopped short of forecasting that England would win it. Meanwhile the players attracting most attention were two centre-halves from London clubs at opposite ends of their career: Ledley King, 23, who will be given the opportunity of impressing his new Tottenham manager, Jacques Santini; and Chelsea's Marcel Desailly, 35, whom Santini will leave on the bench tonight, naming Zinedine Zidane as captain.

As England prepared to square up to France here this evening in their first tournament match since losing the World Cup quarter-final to Brazil just under two years ago, the head coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, predicted it would be a "great" competition, but stopped short of forecasting that England would win it. Meanwhile the players attracting most attention were two centre-halves from London clubs at opposite ends of their career: Ledley King, 23, who will be given the opportunity of impressing his new Tottenham manager, Jacques Santini; and Chelsea's Marcel Desailly, 35, whom Santini will leave on the bench tonight, naming Zinedine Zidane as captain.

"It must be a great tournament with so many world-class players, absolutely fantastic," Eriksson declared. "I believe we can do very well. It's a big, big game and very important, but the most important thing is to go through to the quarter-final." Matches against Switzerland in Coimbra on Thursday and Croatia back in Lisbon tomorrow week will determine that.

Although prepared to risk using four midfield players whose natural inclination is to attack, Eriksson has warned them: "If you don't have discipline, shape and organisation, you're out of it. If we lose the ball and are badly organised, then it's Christmas Eve for France."

As a Swede, Eriksson does not feel burdened by English football's sense of underachievement at international level, in only ever having won one major tournament in more than half a century of trying. His captain, David Beckham, does, admitting last night: "We definitely need to win something pretty quick. Hopefully this will be our year. A draw [today] wouldn't be the worst result, but we want to win it."

King has emerged as the preferred choice to replace John Terry, one of four central defenders unavailable, even though Jamie Carragher played 83 minutes of the final warm-up match against Iceland. It may be that Iceland's goal in their 6-1 defeat, after winning two uncontested headers following a corner, was a decisive factor, as Eriksson believes King to be better in the air and quicker - the latter quality important against the pace of Thierry Henry.

"I'm not preoccupied with the England team, but we have great respect for them," Santini said before France's final training session last night. Desailly suggested: "I think collectively we're at a slightly higher level than the English. I read that Sol Campbell loves playing against Thierry and I hope by the end of the game he'll think differently."

As up to 40,000 England fans at the new Estadio da Luz work themselves into a fever approaching kick-off today, Eriksson's last words to his players will be typically cerebral, and just as appropriate for the supporters: "Keep it cool, whatever happens." All together now...

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