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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 September, 2003, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Eriksson turns England tide
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Sven-Goran Eriksson either enjoys living dangerously - or is using England's Euro 2004 campaign to taunt his critics who accuse him of tactical inflexibility.

Eriksson was lambasted for his failure to adjust England's World Cup game plan as they limped lamely out of the quarter-final against Brazil in Japan.

But since then he has demonstrated his ability to cope with crisis management - and England's dismal defence offers him plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his skills.

England coach Eriksson re-shaped a shambolic tactical system to fashion a victory against Slovakia - and he was at it again as humiliation beckoned in Macedonia.

Macedonia deservedly led 1-0 at the interval, with Georgi Hristov's farcical goal summing up the shoddy defending that has characterised England's stop-start campaign.

Eriksson's response was to send for Emile Heskey, everyone presumed at the expense of Everton's Wayne Rooney.

Not that Rooney had played badly - he had been starved of service and England needed a different option.

Instead Eriksson kept Rooney on and replaced Frank Lampard, withdrawing the Everton teenager into a role behind Heskey and Michael Owen.

It worked like a magic formula on England's struggles, Rooney making history as the youngest goalscorer in the country's history with his equaliser, courtesy of Heskey's knock-down.

It set the stage for captain David Beckham to seal England's win and left Eriksson to laugh in the face of his critics again.

But even the ice-cool Swede will be hot under the collar about England's defending, which at times would have shamed park players.

Gary Neville was embarrassed by standing with his hand in the air as he played Macedonia onside for their goal - and Sol Campbell's attempt at a headed clearance when he could have easily have cleared with his left foot was circus stuff.

It may well be a case of all's well that ends well once more, but one day England will not pull off their great escape act, especially against opposition boasting better quality than Macedonia.

Beckham may have been the match-winner, but the honour and the history went to Rooney.

Rooney is the boy with the Midas touch, banishing memories of a his first half struggles with the strike that changed the course of the game.

He has that happy knack of doing the right thing when it is required most - a quality that also seems to be in the possession of Sven-Goran Eriksson.

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