Craig Brown: England can reap the reward of Eriksson's consistency of selection

Eight years ago almost to the day, Paul Gascoigne deftly flicked the ball over Colin Hendry's head and volleyed it low past Andy Goram. While Terry Venables and Don Howe rejoiced in the other Wembley dug-out, I sat stunned and tormented, inwardly seeking an excuse, or at least an explanation. Maybe clutching at straws, I came to the reluctant conclusion that England had two more days of rest, thus giving them a decisive edge. In the extended week-long time scale, this, quite frankly, would hardly be significant, but this week it is totally different.

Eight years ago almost to the day, Paul Gascoigne deftly flicked the ball over Colin Hendry's head and volleyed it low past Andy Goram. While Terry Venables and Don Howe rejoiced in the other Wembley dug-out, I sat stunned and tormented, inwardly seeking an excuse, or at least an explanation. Maybe clutching at straws, I came to the reluctant conclusion that England had two more days of rest, thus giving them a decisive edge. In the extended week-long time scale, this, quite frankly, would hardly be significant, but this week it is totally different.

Without question, the extra day of rest afforded the Portuguese could be extremely influential. Even bearing in mind the advanced sports science knowledge and more enlightened back-room personnel, the fixture schedule must favour the team with 25 per cent more time between matches. The use of the now-favoured pool sessions, heart monitors and massages will facilitate recovery, but undoubtedly Portugal already have one positive advantage.

During tournament play, in particular, when physical, nervous and emotional energy are all expended, everything has to be considered. That's why Brazil, for example, have as many back-room staff as they do players. Even leading clubs have at least one full-time sports psychologist on their books.

This apart, the best recipe to overcome all possible constraints is success. Having been on the staff with Scotland at five major championships (1986, 1990, 1992 and 1998), I know the joy, but also the rigours, of having a 23-man playing squad cooped up in a "prison'', albeit an opulent one, which the team hotel becomes. Now, however, England are in a rarefied environment ­ the quarter-final ­ outside my experience. After all, I was with Scotland!

It has been reassuring to be in the company of noisy, but responsible, England fans and to have witnessed nothing at all of an unsavoury nature. However, there is little doubt that the Estadio de Luz will be dominated by the exuberant, colourful home support. Their Brazilian coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, a World Cup-winner with his native country, has been slow to gain popularity. Portugal's victory over their bitter rivals, Spain, has changed all that.

In any event "Big Phil'' as he is called, is the ideal man to deal with the huge weight of expectation that envelops the host nation. Having watched him at close quarters in the World Cup it is apparent that he is a single-minded, very proactive coach. With Brazil he favoured a three at the back system, but was not slow to change personnel, or strategy, during matches. The same has applied in this tournament. After the shock defeat by Greece he promptly dropped four players and was quick to substitute Pauleta at half-time against Spain, a decision vindicated when his replacement, Nuno Gomes, scored a great winning goal with consummate artistry, finding the net with a crisp well-placed shot from 20 yards. Luis Figo, the captain, was also replaced but although he is certain to start tonight, the suspended Pauleta will not feature.

Portugal play with admirable width, which sometimes leaves their sole striker isolated. Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, on their day, are capable of being devastatingly dangerous and with the ball on the opposite side, one will provide quick support for Nuno Gomes, the striker. Remember Ronaldo's headed goal in the FA Cup final and the several occasions he has found himself in a central scoring position against Greece and Spain? England beware!

With one mainline striker in a 4-1-4-1 formation, Portugal get excellent midfield support from the Porto pair with panache, Maniche and Deco. They are both difficult to pick up in the space between the back four and midfield. Sven Goran Eriksson's strategy will be, I suspect, to deny the space by ensuring that his back four close up, thus keeping things very compact, yet still allowing the adventurous, now scoring Scholes, freedom to get in touch with his strikers.

It is to be hoped that Maniche does not feature too prominently. He does not deserve to. Remember after he scored against Russia he fell clutching his face when the ball had been played gently against his legs? One Portuguese player who, hopefully, will need to be in the thick of the action, is the goalkeeper, Ricardo, a specialist penalty saver. He has been unconvincing on crosses and in decision-making in pre-tournament matches and far from decisive in the three Group games so far.

If Ricardo constitutes a weakness, so do the central defensive duo, Jorge Andrade and Ricardo Carvalho. Their vulnerability has been acknowledged by Scolari since he has brought his sitting midfielder, Porto's Costinha, deeper and deeper. The house style of Brazil, Scolari's home country, is to deploy a key player in this role, as Dunga and Mauro Silva demonstrated so successfully over the years.

England? With spirits high and national pride to compensate for lack of recovery time, expect another assured, winning display. Consistency of selection brings with it consistency of performance and, wisely, Sven has kept faith in his starting XI. Correctly, there has never been doubt about David Beckham's inclusion, although he is playing as if things are on his mind. Nor should there be too much worry over the other three in midfield as they are playing particularly well, both individually and collectively.

After delegating man marking or zonal arrangements, or a combination of both, to defend set pieces, the England squad should relax in confident anticipation of efficiency in this contentious area. Too much emphasis brings an unnecessary complex; a self-fulfilling prophecy could then become a disappointing reality.

But, who knows? We could, quite conceivably, get another virtuoso performance from England's buccaneering hero, Wayne Rooney, who, unlike his captain, is playing instinctively and spontaneously.

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