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Swedes find England's soft centre

June 21, 2006 12:09 IST
England scrambled the 2-2 draw that was enough to top World Cup Group B on Tuesday but opponents Sweden exposed a shocking weakness in one of their traditionally strongest areas -- defending in the air.

Both Swedish equalisers came after England's defenders failed to deal with balls into the box -- a corner and a long throw -- and the Swedes hit the bar on two other occasions following corners.

England have been criticised for many things in the past but weakness at centre back has rarely been one of them and few teams would have targeted an aerial bombardment as the way to unlock their defence.

Opponents, starting with Ecuador in the second round, might think again after Tuesday's horror show in which all three of England's supposedly world class centre backs played a part.

England had looked defensively solid in the first half but began to unravel five minutes into the second when Marcus Allback got to a Tobias Linderoth corner from the left to glance the equaliser.

MAN-MOUNTAIN

Minutes later the move was repeated from the other side, Kim Kallstrom delivering and only a miraculous Paul Robinson save on to the bar denied Freddie Ljungberg.

The introduction of man-mountain Sol Campbell for Rio Ferdinand failed to stem the tide as the bar was rattled again by Allback after Teddy Lucic found himself unmarked for another Linderoth in-swinger.

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Another substitute, Steven Gerrard, then cleared off the line from Kallstrom after Mellberg won another corner.

Gerrard put England back in front but there was still time for a final piece of defending that would have been an embarrassment to a Sunday league team.

A long throw by Erik Edman sailed over John Terry's head and was allowed to bounce just outside the six-yard box; a sin worthy of expulsion from the centre back's union. It sailed over Campbell's head for a disbelieving Henrik Larsson to touch in.

BARE BONES

Robinson was apoplectic, and rightly so, and manager Sven-Goran Eriksson will have to quickly address the problem.

It is not as if he did not already have enough to worry about at the other end of the pitch with a knee injury to Michael Owen that leaves him down to the bare bones in the striker department.

He will hope and pray that Wayne Rooney and the suddenly indispensable Peter Crouch avoid injury or he will be forced to blood teenager Theo Walcott.

The 17-year-old with 25 minutes' international experience who has never played in the Premiership is suddenly looking as if he will have a part to play for England to have any serious hopes of surviving four more games and challenging for the trophy.

Mitch Phillips
Source:
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