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   31 May, 2002 | 1030 IST



Cup Friendlies

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England midfield hopes rest on United trio

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With his options limited by injury, England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is set to turn to the premier league's most consistent side, Manchester United, for the engine room in his team's opening World Cup game against Sweden.

David Beckham is fit and ready after seven weeks out with a broken foot to lead England on Sunday but the absence of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard from the finals has left a gaping hole in central midfield alongside Paul Scholes.

That should be filled for the group F game by the workmanlike Nicky Butt. Now back from a knee injury, Butt should see off Canadian-born talent Owen Hargreaves to complete a United trio in the middle at Saitama.

However, should Butt begin to fade, or play below the high standards he set for United last season, the more inventive Hargreaves would get the chance to build on impressive recent performances.

Pending the expected return to full fitness of Kieron Dyer, the problem position on the left will be solved for the Sweden game by pulling Emile Heskey back into the middle.

That might seem an odd move given that he tends to be most productive up front and is more suited to playing on the right.

However, while a natural foil for his fleet-footed Liverpool strike partner, Michael Owen, Heskey has occupied the midfield role when required during England's qualifying last year.

The switch would also explain why Darius Vassell, a relative newcomer to the England set-up since making a scoring debut against the Netherlands in February, was paired with Owen for their friendlies against South Korea and Cameroon.

Aside from Hargreaves, the other midfield weapon available to Eriksson for the second half, particularly if England need goals, is West Ham United's incisive Joe Cole.

The 20-year-old's ability to get past opponents and play 'now you see it, now you don't' with the ball would cause problems even for a well-organised defence such as Sweden's.


Sol Campbell will partner Rio Ferdinand in central defence, flanked on the left by Ashley Cole and on the right by Danny Mills, who is likely to get the nod over Wes Brown.

David Seaman, at 38, will provide a wealth of experience between the posts.

Though some of the faces have changed due to injury, with Gerrard and right-back Gary Neville likely to be missed, Eriksson has already indicated there will be no tactical revolution.

A 4-4-2 line-up remains the preferred option, one that sucks opponents into the England half before releasing the lightning pace of Owen and Vassell on the counter-attack.

Beckham's booming free-kicks and inswinging corners are also in the armoury, along with the rapier thrusts of Scholes's through balls as shown by the pass that set up Vassell in the 2-2 draw with Cameroon.

Sweden may have a good idea of what to expect from England, but that knowledge will not make their task any easier on Sunday.

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