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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Friendly fire
By Andrew McKenzie

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson suffered the heaviest defeat of his spell in charge of the national side on Wednesday.

The loss was England's biggest since 1980 and will rank alongside the shambolic home reverse to Australia as the most embarrassing moments of Eriksson's reign.

With less than 10 months to go before the World Cup finals is it time for his bosses at the Football Association to ask some searching questions about his latest friendly debacle?

Whatever your opinion of Eriksson's spell as coach, since taking over in January 2001 his record in competitive games is exceptional - just two defeats in 29 games.

But his record in friendlies has been poor - with just 10 wins in 25 games.

More worrying than the results is the manner of the defeats and Eriksson's attitude towards non-competitive matches.

There seems to be two specific reasons for playing friendlies: as a platform for established players to gel and prepare for a competitive game or to try out new or fringe players.

Eriksson seems to do neither.

On Wednesday he sensibly opted to play Jermain Defoe up front with Wayne Rooney, with Michael Owen suspended for the Wales game.

FRIENDLY LOSSES
17/08/05: Denmark 4-1 (A)
17/11/04: Spain 1-0 (A)
31/03/04: Sweden 1-0 (A)
16/11/03: Denmark 2-3 (H)
12/02/03: Australia 1-3 (H)
27/03/02: Italy 1-2 (H)
15/08/01: Holland 0-2 (H)
But after just 45 minutes Eriksson brought off Defoe for Owen.

What could the young pairing have learned from half a game when neither was able to get involved?

What was gained by bringing on Owen for the second half - other than helping give the Real Madrid forward some match action?

Eriksson's substitutions are often baffling and the second-half collapse owed much to the half-time arrivals.

David James was at fault for the first goal, Jamie Carragher lost his marker for the third and Glen Johnson continues to look anything but an international defender.

While Eriksson cannot be blamed for individual errors, Wednesday's display sparked some burning questions:

  • Why give Paul Robinson just 45 minutes? He has only recently established himself as the number one and surely England would be best served by giving him time with the rest of the back four.

  • Why bring on David James? Everyone knows his strengths and, more importantly, his weaknesses. James is 35, would it not have been better to see more of the 25-year-old Robert Green if Eriksson really felt the need to withdraw Robinson?

  • While there does not appear to be a host of options at right-back, is Eriksson the only person who still believes Glen Johnson is an international defender?

  • The heavily-criticised summer trip to North America seemed to unearth Kieran Richardson and Michael Carrick as players with England potential - where were they on Wednesday?

  • Joe Cole was given a full 90 minutes on the left side. Would it not have been worth giving promising left-footer Stewart Downing a run out rather than using him in an U21 friendly?

  • What can be learned by bringing on Jermaine Jenas for six minutes?

  • England's lack of leadership on the pitch was matched by the lack of guidance off the field. Is it time for Eriksson to offer some vocal support from the touchline when things are not going their way?

    To many the Denmark game was a needless friendly at the start of what promises to be a long season.

    But this was England's last chance to prepare for trips to Wales and Northern Ireland early next month that could decide their World Cup fate.

    Thousands of fans made the journey and deserved better than players representing their country simply going through the motions.

    A good performance or a win would have given England a timely confidence boost ahead of the qualifiers.

    But instead they suffered a demoralising loss that provided more ammunition for those Eriksson detractors - recently backed up by Robbie Fowler - that he struggles to motivate his players and has no Plan B.

    If there was one good thing to come out of Copenhagen it was that Eriksson finally spoke out against his underperformers.

    Too often in the past he has been quick to leap to the defence of his side.

    His post-match comments normally suggest he has been watching a different match to the rest of the country.

    If the defeat has seen the birth of a new passionate Eriksson that can energise the national side, the trip will have proved to be worthwhile after all.




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