Shearer ankle injury increases Keegan's anxieties

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The Independent Online

THESE ARE anxious times for the England coach, Kevin Keegan. A treatment table creaking under the weight of five of his players - including his resurgent captain, Alan Shearer - was a cause for concern yesterday as he prepares for Sunday's friendly against Belgium.

THESE ARE anxious times for the England coach, Kevin Keegan. A treatment table creaking under the weight of five of his players - including his resurgent captain, Alan Shearer - was a cause for concern yesterday as he prepares for Sunday's friendly against Belgium.

By then, England's chances of reaching a place in the play-offs for Euro 2000 will have been decided by the collision of Sweden, who have already qualified, and Poland, who could burst England's bubble by achieving a draw. So there was some relief yesterday when their coach, Tommy Soderberg, insisted his charges would indeed be striving for that outcome in Solna.

Soderberg was adamant that Sweden's sole intention is to beat the Poles. "The focus and concentration is on our own team," the coach said. "This is the last match of the season. We have played seven matches so far and we intend to keep our excellent record going. We haven't scored enough goals especially in the last two games."

Aside from Shearer, others sitting out training were the defender Martin Keown, also nursing an ankle injury, and Keown's Arsenal team-mate Tony Adams, who was receiving treatment on an Achilles problem. The Manchester United midfielders Paul Scholes (foot) and David Beckham (hamstring) were also unable to take part in the morning session at Bisham Abbey to bring the tally of resting first-teamers to five.

Given that the game at Sunderland's Stadium of Light is a friendly, Keegan would be unwilling to risk any players with slight injuries, but it may be that some or all of the problems clear up before the game.

Gareth Southgate is the only central defensive back-up to Keown and Adams in the 24-man squad after Jonathon Woodgate was unable to join the party because of a back problem. However, Keegan will wait until later in the week before deciding whether he needs to call up any reinforcements, possibly from the Under-21 squad.

There was less welcome news for Keegan's Republic of Ireland counterpart, Mick McCarthy, however, as the Blackburn midfielder Lee Carsley was withdrawn from the squad for Saturday's vital Group Eight European Championship qualifying encounter with Macedonia in Skopje.

Carsley suffered a bruised foot in Blackburn's goalless draw with Queen's Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Saturday and although he joined the rest of the squad in Dublin yesterday, he returned to Ewood Park for treatment after examination by the Irish team doctor. "Lee has no chance of playing. It's a big loss for us, but there is nothing I can do about it," McCarthy said. No decision has yet been taken on whether to call up the former captain Andy Townsend as a replacement. The most likely replacement for Carsley will be Portsmouth's Alan McLoughlin, who won his 41st cap in the 3-2 victory over Malta in Valetta last month.

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