The George Cohen Column: Folly of gambler Sven: we should never have had to rely this much on Rooney

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The Independent Online

Now that Michael Owen is back in England, I'm afraid that Sven Goran Eriksson's World Cup chickens are also coming home - to roost, I have to say. What was the England coach thinking of when he decided to take only four forwards to Germany, two of them unfit? Now we're in a situation in which we may well have to use a young boy, at least from the bench, who has yet to play for his club. That is not an ideal situation going into the last 16 of the World Cup.

It may well be that Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney work well together, but Rooney looks far from fit, and if he is not going to last the 90 minutes then Theo Walcott will have to come into the equation, as a substitute if nothing else. We're talking about a youngster - a babe - who has not played a Premiership game. If you're not ready to be in the Arsenal team, then how can you be in the England team in the World Cup?

There has been a lot of talk about Rooney being deployed on his own up front against Ecuador today, but you cannot expect him to run the forward line on his own when he is patently short of fitness.

I think you must play Crouch with him. Crouch is very under-estimated, in my opinion. Playing him and Rooney together should be our first move in terms of our attack now. I'm sure of that. You have to have an option, of course, and for me that would be putting Joe Cole alongside Rooney - or alongside Crouch, for that matter.

You have to say, though, that it's a pretty dire situation now that we're down to just two specialist, experienced forwards. Nobody in the opposition is going to have respect for Rooney's bad foot, and you worry whether Rooney could keep his temper if somebody had a go at him deliberately. The fact is we're relying on him heavily now. It should never have been this way.

We're fortunate we're playing Ecuador today and not one of the more established countries. I would hate to see us lose against them and go out of the competition, but if that does happen, it will be because Eriksson has not done his job properly. Not to take more forwards when he knew his two most potent strikers were unfit was absolutely ludicrous. He has taken a massive gamble. If it comes off, all well and good; he's going to be a genius. But I don't think that's the case. I think he's backed himself into a huge corner. He's got us into a situation where our options are very, very limited indeed.

It all goes back to the preparation. That was abysmal. Playing all those players in 15-minute cameos in friendly matches was pointless. You cannot tell what a player is like in 15 minutes. And you had Andy Johnson - an out- and-out forward - playing on the right side of midfield. That was nonsensical, absurd. It's just an example of the kind of thing that's been going on.

All of those cameos did nothing to enlighten Eriksson as to who he should be taking in his 23. Now the numbers seem to be diminishing, with Owen back home and others on the injured list in Germany. We still have players who I think will give good accounts of themselves, but I don't think we've got players who can go out and say with any confidence, "We can beat the likes of Argentina or Germany or the Dutch".

Against Sweden, we were absolutely pathetic at the back. And we're still getting no wing movement down the right. David Beckham is giving us absolutely nothing there.

Before the tournament began people were telling us we had seven world-class players: the two central defenders, the two central midfielders, plus Beckham, Rooney and Owen. But when you look at the players we're supposed to be counting on, Owen's back home now, Beckham is simply not producing, Rooney is not fit, and in the second half against Sweden the defence looked as if it had just been thrown together. With all of these "world-class" players, we aren't performing very well.

A lot of people have said it is the best England World Cup squad since ours in 1966. Back then, we may have started out poorly, but we got better progressively and very quickly. And we did play some pretty good teams: Uruguay, Mexico, France, Argentina, Portugal, Germany. That wasn't easy, believe me. They had some bloody good players around in those days. Now we're supposed to have seven world-class players and we're in dire trouble.

We've got to win four more games, our squad is diminishing all the time, and we're not looking like an outfit. If we do win this World Cup I will be delighted. I've backed England and I shall make a lot of money. If it does happen, though, there will be nobody more surprised than me.

George Cohen was talking to Simon Turnbull

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