Woodgate Portugal chances 'very slim'

Sir Bobby Robson yesterday all but ended any lingering hopes that Jonathan Woodgate would be fit in time for England's Euro 2004 campaign.

The Newcastle United manager has already resigned himself to the fact that he will be without his £9m signing as he tries to steer his side to Uefa Cup success and the fourth and final Champions' League qualification spot. But the former England coach also suggested that Sven Goran Eriksson should forget about him for his plans for Portugal after claiming the torn thigh muscle he picked up in the 2-1 win over Chelsea last weekend could take four months to heal.

Woodgate will visit a specialist in London this morning with Robson maintaining that his chances of making the England squad were "very, very slim". He said: "Jonathan has got a two or three month injury, maybe even four. I've not spoken to Sven because he is going to a see a specialist on Friday. When we get the information back from him we will know more about the exact time he will be out.

"He has got absolutely no chance of playing for us again this season and his chances of playing for England in the summer are very slim indeed.

"I would like Jonathan Woodgate to play in the European Championship, just as we did when we got Kieron [Dyer] fit for the World Cup two years ago. It would make him a better player, but I doubt he will be there.

"We will do everything we can for him, but he will have to pass the most stringent of fitness examinations here first. He is not worth taking a gamble on because this is a thigh tear; he cannot even kick a ball until it's totally healed."

The probable loss of Woodgate would be a bitter blow for Eriksson, even if it is not that surprising. Woodgate has been injury-prone throughout his career and has only managed 37 appearances for Newcastle in 18 months.

Having voluntarily surrendered the chance to play an international friendly this week - reasoning that the benefits did not outweigh antagonising the clubs - Eriksson took the chance to scout England's Euro 2004 opponents.

The England manager was in Geneva to see Switzerland, England's opponents on 17 June in Coimbra, defeat Slovenia 2-1. His assistant, Tord Grip, travelled to Skopje to watch Croatia, England's third group opponents, beat their Macedonian hosts 1-0.

As is customary in these circumstances, both men praised their subjects, omitting, publicly at least, to identify any weaknesses England may be able to exploit. Eriksson said: "This was the first time I have been able to see Switzerland in the flesh since the draw was made in December. They are a good team, skilful and well organised. They play a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, and it was the attacking players who especially caught my eye.''

Grip said of Croatia: "I was impressed by some of their performances, although it was a poor game. They started with a 4-4-2 formation before switching to 3-5-2 after half-time. Even though they were missing Dado Prso [the Monaco striker who scored against Chelsea last week in the Champions' League], they were still a threat.''

Eriksson will leave further scouting duties to Roland Anderson, the former Sweden international assisting England, and David Platt, the England Under-21 manager, while he concentrates on finalising his 23-man Euro 2004 squad.

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