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England wait for super eight

Published: Wednesday 10 September 2003, 13.35CET
Group 7: England can break a post­-war record as Liechtenstein visit Old Trafford.
Published: Wednesday 10 September 2003, 13.35CET

England wait for super eight

Group 7: England can break a post­-war record as Liechtenstein visit Old Trafford.

By Jim Wirth

The last time England won seven consecutive games was under Alf Ramsey in the run-up to their lone success in the 1966 FIFA World Cup. With their 2-1 win against F.Y.R. Macedonia on Saturday, manager Sven-Göran Eriksson matched that achievement, and will go one better if they can beat Liechtenstein on home soil.

Big countdown
More significantly, a win in Manchester will push the English past Turkey at the top of UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 7 ahead of the sides' last-day encounter in Istanbul on 11 October.

Cautious approach
England will be group winners if they win that game, regardless of the result at Old Trafford on Wednesday. And while the English public may be baying for a landslide win against the group's minnows, the team's Swedish coach may not be too inclined to risk his best players with such a big game looming.

Facing suspension
With David Beckham, Sol Campbell and Steven Gerrard all one yellow card away from an automatic suspension, it remains to be seen who Eriksson will select for the Liechtenstein game, which takes place on the same night that Slovakia host F.Y.R. Macedonia.

Gerrard dilemma
Gerrard's importance to England can be summed up in one statistic - they have not lost on any of the 19 occasions he has played for his country. He missed Saturday's game in Skopje with a minor injury, and is getting used to the idea of being withdrawn for Wednesday's game too.

Eriksson aware
"I spoke to the manager on Sunday," said the Liverpool FC midfield player. "He said 'I'm not sure whether I am going to play you but if I do I want you to be very careful because I want you available for Turkey'."

'I want to play'
"I want to play," added the combative youngster whose tough-tackling style makes the occasional booking something of an occupational hazard. "I'll understand the situation if I don't but, being an England player and especially after missing one international, I want to play in the next game."

Missing stars
Eriksson also has to deal with the absence through injury of Manchester United FC midfield player Nicky Butt and defender Rio Ferdinand. However, he is not without useful replacements and the Liechtenstein game could be a good opportunity for the coach to showcase the talents of some of England's less celebrated players.

Midfield options
Chelsea FC's Joe Cole and Liverpool's Danny Murphy would certainly be fine replacements for Beckham and Gerrard. Cole's Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge may also be given a run-out on the left side of defence or in midfield in a game which England should win at a canter.

Superb statistics
While England's critics have been underwhelmed by Eriksson's side's inability to control a game for a full 90 minutes, there is now no denying their winning habits. "Granted, we've conceded a few early goals but we must be doing something right to win seven on the trot," said goalkeeper David James. A few early goals conceded by James' opposite number on Wednesday would doubtless be welcome in Manchester.

Rough evening
"I hope he is gentle with us," joked Liechtenstein goalkeeper Peter Jehle as he pondered facing Beckham in his first game back at Old Trafford since joining Real Madrid CF. Beckham has said he will play but even without his captain, Eriksson would hope Jehle would still be in for a rough evening.

Last updated: 10/09/03 15.46CET

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