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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 October 2007, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
McClaren eyes improvement
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Wembley

Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney will be England's main threat
Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney will be England's main threat

England coach Steve McClaren knows he is on the brink of turning around a Euro 2008 campaign and a tenure in charge that was in chaos just months ago - but the biggest hurdle now awaits.

And McClaren was honest enough to admit that England need to up the levels if they are to get the win they need in Moscow on Wednesday after the stroll against Estonia at Wembley.

Victory against Russia will mean England can make their plans for Austria and Switzerland next summer, but defeat will bring all the old pressures to bear on McClaren.

England's victory over Estonia was, literally at times, a stroll played out in a Wembley atmosphere that was often eerily quiet.

But in the second 45 minutes it led to a lack of urgency and sloppiness that cannot be repeated against Guus Hiddink's side.

McClaren said: "In the second half we didn't perform well. It was not the performance we wanted. I could understand us going a bit flat but our performance could have been better.

"But if you had asked me before would I take being 3-0 up after half an hour and have the three points pretty much won I would have been delighted."

England's players celebrate Wayne Rooney's goal
England's players celebrate Wayne Rooney's goal

McClaren will have been pleased with Wayne Rooney's re-introduction to England duty, ending his competitive goal drought and suggesting he and Michael Owen can pose a serious threat to Russia.

Owen could not finish off his performance with a goal, but with 70 minutes under his belt a fortnight after a groin operation, his simple presence against the Russian side he destroyed at Wembley is a real bonus.

The usual dilemma, injury doubts over John Terry and Ashley Cole aside, will be the central midfield and whether room should be made for Frank Lampard.

Lampard was treated disgracefully by sections of the Wembley crowd during his brief appearance as a substitute, and his disappointment is likely to be increased because he will surely be marginalised again in Moscow.

Gareth Barry and Steven Gerrard dove-tailed well in midfield, although the Liverpool captain just seems short of his best at the moment - some of the drive is missing and it is to be hoped he recovers it quickly.

But both England and McClaren have responded with real character to the crisis that threatened to engulf them and the criticism they rightly received prior to the win against Andorra in Barcelona.

Now they can finish the job off on Moscow's artificial surface and victory will add to McClaren's confidence and further wipe away doubts about his credibility as England coach.

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