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Rediff.com  » Sports » England look to Rooney to lift the gloom

England look to Rooney to lift the gloom

October 12, 2005 16:18 IST

England are counting on Wayne Rooney's return to lift a struggling side and an under-fire coach in Wednesday's final World Cup qualifier against Poland.

With both sides already through to the finals, the only footballing issue will be who finishes top of Group Six, which Poland lead by two points over their Old Trafford hosts.

More than the points, though, England badly need a convincing victory to ease the pressure on coach Sven-Goran Eriksson after his team's wretched start to the season.

With a lucrative contract until 2008 and qualification in the bag, the Swede's job is not in doubt.

But his tactics and man-management skills have been targeted by a hostile press, while fans have begun to question his optimism about England's chances in Germany following last month's defeat by Northern Ireland.

Saturday's 1-0 win over Austria, worth at least a runners-up's place at the finals, did little to lift a sense of gloom that has descended since a 4-1 friendly drubbing by Denmark in August.

Even before captain David Beckham's red card after an hour against Austria, England had shown plenty of willingness but none of last season's swagger and penetration up front.

As a result, fans are hoping Rooney will now return to partner Michael Owen after a one-match ban wearing the mantle of national saviour.

EXHILARATING ROONEY

The teenager's exhilarating runs in the final third and his eye for goal will be key to England's chances in Germany, let alone in Manchester, where he is already an Old Trafford favourite at club level.

His task on Wednesday will be not be made easier by absenteeism in the England ranks, with a ban for Beckham and injuries ruling out defenders Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville, plus midfielder Steven Gerrard.

Rooney's Manchester United team mate Rio Ferdinand, dropped from the starting lineup on Saturday but a second-half substitute for Campbell, will partner John Terry in central defence.

Beckham's slot on the right will go to Shaun Wright-Phillips, while a more innovative move is expected to be centre half Ledley King taking Gerrard's place as a defensive midfielder.

King assumed the role briefly as a substitute on Saturday and has also played there at Tottenham Hotspur.

King, who will turn 25 on match day, has already proved himself at the top level with an impressive display against France at Euro 2004 in central defence.

"I was pleased with the way it went against France," he said. "People were probably wondering if I was good enough for that level. I like to think I proved that in that game...It's one of the highlights of my career so far."

The Poles have injury problems at both ends. Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek is still recovering from an elbow injury and looks sure to miss the game but Celtic striker Maciej Zurawski is hopeful despite aggravating a thigh strain in Friday's friendly win over Iceland.

Coach Pawel Janas, whose side were beaten 2-1 by England in Chorzow last year, has made it clear he is not looking to qualify in one of the runners-up slots.

"The time for congratulations will be after we return from Manchester. I want a positive result against England so that we finish first in the group," he told Polish press agency PAP.

Success for Poland would certainly not be the deadliest blow they have landed on England, having famously denied Alf Ramsey's side a place at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany with a 1-1 draw at Wembley.

Ramsey, England's 1966 World Cup-winning manager, was sacked in the aftermath.

Probable teams

England: Paul Robinson; Luke Young, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Jamie Carragher; Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ledley King, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole; Wayne Rooney; Michael Owen

Poland: Artur Boruc; Tomasz Rzasa, Jacek Bak, Mariusz Jop, Michal Zewlakow; Kamil Kosowski, Mariusz Lewandowski/Arkadiusz Radomski, Radoslaw Sobolewski, Euzebiusz Smolarek; Maciej Zurawski/Tomasz Frankowski, Grzegorz Rasiak

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)

Source:
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