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Saturday, October 9, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK

Sport: Football

Keegan's million thanks

Kevin Keegan: A relieved man after a Swedish reprieve

A relieved England coach Kevin Keegan has thanked the Swedes for their efforts in helping his side qualify for the Euro 2000 play-offs.

The England manager Kevin Keegan: "We've got a lifeline and we'll see what we can do from here"
At a news conference in Sunderland, where England play Belgium in a friendly match on Sunday, he slipped into Swedish to say to Saturday's matchwinners: "Thanks a million."

The home side's 2-0 win over Poland in Stockholm means Keegan's side face a knockout tie over two legs in November to decide whether they will play in next summer's finals in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The coach hoped the narrow escape from group stage elimination would prove a turning point.

"I'm delighted for the players, because with the talent we've got we shouldn't really be relying on Sweden or Poland or anybody," he said at the Stadium of Light.

Wednesday draw

Keegan and his players will discover who they will play in the play-offs after Wednesday's draw.

Keegan admitted it had been close, but denied they had Sweden entirely to thank for their position.

England, he poijnted out, had finished second in the group thanks to their own efforts in a home win over Poland and last month's draw in Warsaw.

"You saw today how difficult this group has been to get any domination over another," the coach said after watching the action from Stockholm, where it took the Swedes over an hour to score.

'Sentence passed'

Straight after the game, he admitted feeling very nervous throughout the 90 minutes.

"We've got a repirieve. It was like we'd been found guilty and I was waiting for the judge to pass sentence this afternoon, but I thought Sweden did fantastically for us.

"They only had to play for their pride today, they've won the group and they'd already qualified.

"Yet they've gone out there and after a difficult first half, mainly through the conditions, they've done themselves proud."

The coach believed there were plenty of grounds for optimism provided the best players stayed fit.

"We have lost key players at certain times in this tournament, " he said.

"We've got a nice balance now, we've got the kids pushing through, and that's good for me and good for the other players because it would keep them on their toes."

And he looked to the example of Euro 1992 champions Denmark, who were called into the tournament at the last minute after Yugoslavia were prevented from competing.

"I can remember a team coming off the beach to win," he said. "You try telling the people in Denmark they got in through the back door."

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