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Last Updated: Friday, 25 June, 2004, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
England need to be bold
By Phil McNulty
Our man with England

David Beckham (left) and Sven-Goran Eriksson

Sven-Goran Eriksson and David Beckham stood side by side in the face of fierce criticism of their roles in England's premature departure from Euro 2004 as they prepared to leave Lisbon.

Eriksson insisted Beckham would remain captain and an automatic choice - Beckham insisted Eriksson was the man the players trusted to take England forward.

Their mutual appreciation has always been evident, but they needed each other more than ever after the quarter-final loss on penalties to Portugal.

Not because England played badly at Euro 2004 - not because they returned home in disarray and disgrace.

It is because England came up short when they were expected to have a major impact, only reaching what appears to be their true level of the last eight again.

Euro 2004 reflected too many failings and not enough overall quality to get further than the quarter-finals

Eriksson and Beckham were in the firing line because the Swede's natural caution appeared to surface against the two class teams England faced, while the skipper's Euro 2004 was a personal misery.

When Eriksson takes time to reflect on England's displays, he will see a patchy affair that rarely touched the heights - the deeds of Wayne Rooney apart.

The first game against France was a brave but unsuccessful backs-to-the-wall exercise, the second against Switzerland was poor until the last 20 minutes.

The win against Croatia was impressive, but it was against a team chasing a win and one England expected to beat.

Limitations were then cruelly exposed against Portugal, with the hosts superior technically and tactically, inflicting England to the torture of long spells without the ball.

Wayne Rooney
Rooney's dazzling displays lit up England's group games

As against France, Eriksson appeared to settle too early for defensive attrition, sending out the message that England were about to spend the last 35 minutes in the trenches when he replaced Paul Scholes with Phil Neville.

It appears England are happy to attack lesser opponents, but when presented with greater quality Eriksson's conservatism gets the better of him.

It is a policy that trusts to luck as much as stout defending, and in the searing atmosphere of Lisbon's Stadium of Light, England and Eriksson's ran out.

In Rooney, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, England had giants in the tournament, but on occasions a midfield full of world-class talent looked a cobbled-together mess of parts rather than a unified whole.

Beckham, a subdued and out-of-sorts figure, was a huge disappointment and faced the almost-unthinkable from inquisitors at England's Lisbon training base before flying home.

Should he step down as England captain?

His emphatic "no" hit its target with far more accuracy than his penalties.

Eriksson has until September to hope a better goalkeeper than David James appears on the scene, while England are no nearer solving the problem of who plays on the left.

Paul Scholes celebrates his goal against Croatia
Scholes scored but should he be starting?
Paul Scholes filled the gap in Euro 2004, and while the ploy was not a miserable failure it could not be labelled a success.

If Eriksson really believes Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, two successes of Euro 2004, are the central midfield partnership of the future, then he must take the tough decision and exclude Scholes from his starting XI.

Scholes either plays in central midfield or not at all.

England's defence and attack is well-catered for, and in Rooney and Michael Owen Eriksson has a strike force the world will envy.

But Euro 2004 also reflected too many failings and not enough overall quality to get further than the quarter-finals.

And if the partnership of Eriksson as coach and Beckham as captain is not to come under even closer scrutiny, both must be bolder and more effective than they were in Portugal.





Links to more England stories


 

SEE ALSO
Portugal break England hearts
24 Jun 04 |  Euro 2004
Beckham takes the blame
24 Jun 04 |  England
Eriksson vows to stay on
25 Jun 04 |  England


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