By Jonathan Wilson and Igor Panevski
Jermaine Jenas and Kieron Dyer are good friends. They play together in the centre of midfield for Newcastle United FC, and they will be room-mates for England's UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifier away to Liechtenstein. They are also both touted as the next solution to England's perennial problem on the left side of midfield.
It is difficult to remember when the build-up to an England game did not focus on who would play on the left. A host of players, few of them naturally left-sided midfield players, have been asked to fulfil the role, none with any conspicuous success - Nick Barmby, Owen Hargreaves, Trevor Sinclair and Emile Heskey have all come and gone. In England's last qualifier, the 2-2 draw against F.Y.R. Macedonia in Southampton, coach Sven-Göran Eriksson deployed full-back Wayne Bridge in midfield, but with Ashley Cole injured Bridge will now take the defensive role.
So the left side now seems a three-way fight between Dyer, Jenas and Liverpool FC's Danny Murphy. "
The left side is not my best position but you would play anywhere for your country," Dyer said. "JJ [Jenas] will probably say the same as would Danny Murphy. JJ is probably my best friend at Newcastle and his progress this season has been nothing short of remarkable. If he is selected and I'm left out I'll be delighted for him and hoping he does really well."
Jenas was in equally supportive mood. "We're both centre-of-midfield players who want to play for our country. But you've got to start somewhere, and I feel I could do a job on the left. But if Kieron's out there I will be rooting for him."
Dyer seems somewhat in awe of his team-mate. "With JJ you just tell him something once and he'll go to the training ground the next day and perfect it," he said. "It's just a God-given talent. The question for England is whether Jenas or Dyer can adapt to the left, or whether the side once again will be left with a surfeit of excellent central midfield players who flap like fish out of water on the left. Dyer is even considering watching videos of France's Robert Pires to learn how a natural right-footer can be dangerous on the left, but he admits switching role is a thankless task. "I'm sure JJ would have the same problem," he said, "even though he's so mature."
That draw against Macedonia has left England in desperate need of a morale-boosting win in Vaduz ahead of their crucial meeting with group leaders Turkey in Sunderland on Wednesday. "We've got to win this game," admitted captain David Beckham. "
We can't afford to draw any more games or have any more slip-ups."
Youth is the watch-word of Liechtenstein coach Ralf Loose, who has chosen to persevere with an 18-man squad, eleven of whom are under 23. "I have put my confidence in the players who have played the last few matches," he explained. "We decided to introduce some tactical changes in our play lately and the players who are in the team are the ones who have adapted well to the new system."
In Saturday's other game in the group, F.Y.R. Macedonia, boosted by that draw against England, face a Slovakia side who have lost both their qualifiers so far, but who won 5-0 on their last trip to Skopje. "We played horribly then," said defender Igor Mitrevski. "But now the situation in the team is completely different. The atmosphere is brilliant and everything is working well. If we play disciplined football and fulfil all tasks the coach gives us, I'm sure we will be successful."
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