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   20 May, 2002 | 1522 IST


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Void in England's midfield

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With five players injured and only three currently left standing, England's midfield risks being a very lonely place at the World Cup finals.

David Beckham The tale of woe, which started last month at Manchester United with David Beckham breaking a bone in his foot and continued with defender Gary Neville breaking another, has since become a full-blown saga.

Steven Gerrard was ruled out of the finals by a groin injury, Kieron Dyer and Nicky Butt suffered knee damage before leaving and Danny Murphy fell awkwardly in training on Wednesday.

Pending the results of Murphy's bone scan, Eriksson has been left with Paul Scholes as England's only first-choice midfielder still on his feet.

Two gifted rookies, Joe Cole, 20, and Owen Hargreaves, 21, are also available, though both have only a handful of caps after breaking into the squad last season.

Argentina, who England face on June 7 in group F, will not be quaking in their boots.

Though the finals are little more than a week away, Eriksson's immediate hurdle is their friendly against Cameroon on Sunday.


Arranged with their last group game against Nigeria in mind, Eriksson faces a match in Kobe with major problems.

Beckham, Dyer and Butt are still doubtful for the finals and will not be risked for a friendly, leaving the Swede with little option but to play one or more of his players out of position.

Wayne Bridge, normally an understudy to fellow 21-year-old Ashley Cole at left wingback, could be moved forward 20 metres.

Striker Emile Heskey could equally be pulled back 20 metres -- as he was occasionally required to do during qualifying.

Unluckily for Eriksson, though, Cole has now tweaked a knee ligament that has plagued him since Christmas. While England officials played down the problem on Wednesday, the news was not reassuring.

Moving Heskey back would probably make way for Darius Vassell, yet another of the 21-year-old newcomers.

Vassell, who scored on his England debut in February's 1-1 draw with the Netherlands, also started Tuesday's 1-1 draw with South Korea at Sogwipo, when Eriksson fielded a 4-3-3 formation with mixed results.


Fellow striker Robbie Fowler missed that match with a hip injury, but could be back on Sunday.

As for the finals, Eriksson can only pray that Beckham, Dyer and Butt all recover in time for their opener on June 2 against Sweden. If not, he will resort to plundering the Under-21 squad.

Losing a friendly to Cameroon may dent morale, but losing a World Cup game to Sweden, with Argentina just around the corner, would probably condemn England to an early exit.

Less than a fortnight ago, after getting the news about Gerrard and Dyer, Eriksson told reporters: "I'm not the sort of person to be sitting down now and crying, and saying 'bad luck, bad luck.'

"If you wake up in the morning, crying, it will never be a good day and it will rain on your head before evening comes."

In England's case, though, the downpour has not stopped.

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