McClaren focuses on club not country

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The Independent Online

The most important week in Middlesbrough's history commences here tonight with the most important decision of the Football Association's International Committee arguably resting upon the outcome. For the man who has delivered this defining phase in the club's 130-year existence and found himself favourite to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson as a result, however, events in Romania and Soho Square continue to remain mutually exclusive.

Steve McClaren would not be drawn on his England prospects or confirm whether he has had any recent further contact with members of the FA's selection panel, but three semi-finals in eight days and a developing injury crisis provided an excuse for focusing his thoughts elsewhere.

With Steaua Bucharest in the Uefa Cup semi-final first leg followed by the FA Cup date with West Ham on Sunday, and Gareth Southgate joining Mark Viduka among the list of absentees, the Middlesbrough manager preferred to remind his players of the sense of occasion rather than his possible departure.

"We have had so many big games recently that my only focus is on them, so there has been no distraction at all," insisted McClaren. "Other people can talk, but I'm not talking about England. We have an opportunity to reach two finals. This is the biggest week of my career and in Middlesbrough's history. How can I think about anything else?"

Boro's recent success has polished the reputation of their manager, although his critics would argue they have merely glossed over it. A season spent in the lower reaches of the Premiership will be swiftly forgotten if the club's campaign ends in triumph at the Millennium Stadium or in Eindhoven, but Steaua should present an awkward barrier to a date in the Netherlands on 10 May. "Steaua are a dangerous team and have had to overcome many big opponents to get to this stage, but so have we," said McClaren.

He indicated the ability of his squad to withstand the rigours of an extensive workload will dictate his selection policy at the dilapidated Lia Manoliu Stadium, though after Southgate was ruled out last night with an ankle injury his central defensive options are severely limited. Chris Riggott is suspended, meaning McClaren is without his first-choice partnership and likely to partner left-back Franck Queudrue alongside Ugo Ehiogu.

Middlesbrough (probable, 4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Ehiogu, Queudrue, Taylor; Morrison, Boateng, Rochemback, Downing; Hasselbaink; Yakubu.

Steaua Bucharest (probable, 4-4-2): Fernandes; Golan, Ghionea, Marin, Ogararu; Paraschiv, Radoi, Dica, Nesu; Oprita, Cristea.

Referee: A Hamer (Luxembourg).

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