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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 October, 2004, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Eriksson begins to answer critics
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson's position at the helm has been strengthened by the result against Wales
Sven-Goran Eriksson was either a bold gambler or a ditherer neatly side-stepping a big decision - but the one certainty was the Swede's latest team selection had a happy ending for England.

Eriksson polarises opinion violently in the light of recent events, but seven points from England's opening three World Cup qualifiers answers most questions about his future.

He took the plunge by dropping David James for Paul Robinson in Poland, and produced another shock for those used to Eriksson's conservatism with a three-pronged attacking formation that reaped rewards against woeful Wales.

Eriksson opted for the brilliantly adaptable Wayne Rooney behind Jermain Defoe and Michael Owen, a system Wales simply could not contain.

Rooney pulled the strings and it was only England's own carelessness that stood in the way of a massive victory.

Eriksson's conviction in the system will be truly tested when Steven Gerrard returns, or against top-class opposition, when his natural caution has surfaced in the past with disappointing results.

What cannot be disputed is that England have already taken a giant stride towards Germany in 2006.

Rio Ferdinand has been gently rehabilitated in defence, while Rooney with two more years of development is a frightening prospect.

England were simply too good for Wales, who were simply too bad to ever seriously threaten Robinson.

Wayne Rooney ran the show for England
Wayne Rooney's movement and vision were too much for Wales
And, just to complete a rosy picture for Eriksson, his much-maligned captain David Beckham revived memories of Old Trafford days past with a brilliant second goal.

So much for those critics - until the crass stupidity of his booking for a needless, petty piece of revenge on Ben Thatcher.

Beckham would have been suspended for the trip to Azerbaijan, had he not already ruled himself out by ironically breaking a rib by attempting to avoid injury in an earlier collision with Thatcher, who was very much the innocent party.

It was a rare blot on the day for England, although there was shame around Old Trafford before the kick-off.

England's fans loutishly booed the Welsh national anthem, with their counterparts inevitably responding in kind.

And then, to their greater shame, some morons were incapable of silence for 60 seconds, shouting abuse during a silence for murdered British hostage Ken Bigley.

Extra dimension

The game itself was surprisingly short of such hostilities shown by the crowd, which suited England's greater quality and more measured approach. England were quickly into their stride and Wales, mystifyingly, never attempted to shake them out of it.

A goal after three minutes, surely Frank Lampard's despite Michael Owen's unwitting deflection, deflated Wales spectacularly.

And with Nicky Butt holding the midfield fort in excellent fashion, the stage was set for Rooney to merely confirm the brilliance he showed at Euro 2004. Owen was lively, and while Defoe was not as outstanding as in Poland, he more than justified his place with a busy display.

If there was dissatisfaction with England, it was merely that they appeared to be toying with Wales for long periods without delivering the goals their superiority deserved and demanded.

Eriksson, after the brickbats of Vienna, can now travel to Baku in good heart, knowing that it will take a serious shift in power and a selection of shock results to stop England topping one of the weaker groups in the competition.

Rooney, the catalyst for so much, is back in harness and giving England an extra dimension.

There will surely be more difficult games ahead - as well as more difficult selection decisions for the manager.

But for now, Eriksson's troubles of the summer and the early season seem just a little further away.

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