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   27 May, 2002 | 1530 IST


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Eriksson ponders gamble on youth

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Trevor Huggins

Picking England's World Cup team has become even tougher since unleashing youngsters Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves, according to manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Cole, 20, and Hargreaves, 21, are the latest talents to emerge in Eriksson's squad of 20-somethings as he ponders his team to face Sweden in their group F opener on Sunday.

Cole, who shredded Paraguay's defence in a 4-0 friendly win last month, was given his first England start in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Cameroon.

Long described by Eriksson as "a special player", the West Ham United midfielder again stood out with his trickery on the ball and ability to get past opponents.

Hargreaves left no doubts either about his hunger for a starting place.

The versatile Bayern Munich midfielder chased and tackled hard, yet also showed poise on the ball and good distribution.

"I think both of them are very, very keen to be in the starting line-up on Sunday," Eriksson said.

"They are two young boys, young talents, living for football. And it's very nice to see.

"They deserve to be in the squad, even if both of them are Under-21 players."

Even if he had wanted to, Eriksson could have given little away about his starting line-up against Sweden.

The injuries that have ravaged the England camp have left just four automatic starters in their usual positions -- central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, central midfielder Paul Scholes and striker Michael Owen.

Captain David Beckham should return from a broken foot to occupy the right midfield role alongside his Manchester United team mates Scholes and Nicky Butt, who is back in training after a knee injury.

Should Butt struggle this week, though, Hargreaves or Cole would claim his place.


With Kieron Dyer a likely absentee, Owen's usual strike partner Emile Heskey will probably drop into the left midfield position he occasionally occupied during qualifying.

With that in mind, Owen has already been paired with Darius Vassell, a 21-year-old who only made his debut in February, for both Cameroon and last week's 1-1 draw with South Korea.

In goal, Eriksson expects David Seaman to shrug off a groin injury.

Nigel Martyn allowed Pierre Wome's looping cross to hit the post and bounce out for Samuel Eto'o to score after just five minutes on Sunday.

David James was later blameless for conceding Geremi's free-kick, but he and Gareth Southgate were involved in an embarassing mix-up.

The right-back slot is a straight contest between Danny Mills and Wes Brown, who has looked more comfortable on the ball, while on the left Ashley Cole must prove his fitness after a knee injury or lose out to Wayne Bridge.

Picking a World Cup team for any manager is a headache.

For Eriksson, though, with the injuries and the pressure from the likes of Hargreaves and Joe Cole, it risks turning into a full-blown migraine.

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