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Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Eriksson must learn lessons
BBC Sport Online's Phil McNulty

Sven-Goran Eriksson was desperate to avoid discussing his private life - but even that may have been preferable to discussing defeat in Slovakia.

And that was the grim possibility facing England's coach after arguably the worst opening 45 minutes of his reign.

If ever Eriksson needed a lucky break it was in the second half of their opening European Championship game in Bratislava.

It came in the shape of David Beckham's speculative free-kick and in the form of Michael Owen, who has become Eriksson's England talisman since taking over.

But Eriksson has some quick thinking to do before England meet Macedonia in Southampton, despite a winning start to their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign.

Beckham celebrates England's victory
Beckham celebrates England's victory

Eriksson opted for quality as opposed to balance in midfield, a tactical flaw fatally exposed in the first half, with Paul Scholes a stranded and peripheral figure, spending much of his time frustrated near the left flank.

Scholes is uncomfortable in the role and was far more effective when given more licence to roam after the break.

Eriksson insisted he would not fit square pegs into round holes in his England team, but this was a classic example.

The England coach's thinking appears to have been blurred by Nicky Butt's outstanding World Cup in the absence of Steven Gerrard.

Eriksson dodged the decision of picking between the pair at the expense of selecting a balanced midfield, and it may well be that Butt needs to be sacrificed to allow Scholes to come inside against Macedonia.

Kieron Dyer - or even Wayne Bridge on his home ground - may lend more natural width and shape to England's team at St Mary's.

Eriksson must also ensure Owen is given greater support in attack before Liverpool's master striker runs out of party pieces to spare England's embarrasment.

Owen was left isolated for much of a rain-soaked night in Bratislava, and yet still demonstrated the predatory instincts that won the game.

Eriksson prepares for battle
Eriksson prepares for battle

Imagine his effectiveness with genuine support.

Owen's Liverpool club mate Emile Heskey is game and powerful, and emerged with huge credit on a night when he was subjected to shameful racial abuse.

But Owen may be better served with Leeds United's Alan Smith as his partner against Macedonia.

Heskey's qualities are there for all to see, but whether they provide England with a cutting edge remains open to question.

The plus point for England and Eriksson is the resilience and determination shown to grind out a victory in tough surrounbdings.

And when you enter a hostile environment against inspired opponents, all you ask is to emerge unscathed.

England did that - but there must be room for massive improvement.

Slovakia v England news

Slovakia 1-2 England

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