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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Mutiny or the bounty?
By Stuart Roach

England's players showed unity in Istanbul

A week which began with talk of mutiny ended with the bounty everyone wanted.

England's outspoken players may have struggled to make their point in the war of words with the Football Association which raged for far too long.

But, crucially, they made a far more important point in the heat of Istanbul, where a 0-0 draw secured England a place at next year's Euro 2004 finals in Portugal.

To see Sven-Goran Eriksson's players do their talking on the pitch was refreshing and their brave unity under intense pressure would have won back many of the fans alienated by cheap talk of player strikes.

Alpay's distasteful goading of David Beckham in itself would have had England's fiercely loyal fans repledging allegiances in an instant.

And those England fans forced to stay at home for the most crucial international their side has played since the World Cup quarter-final against Brazil would have been hugely encouraged by Beckham and his players fulfilling their pledge of unity.

The England squad danced arm in arm at the final whistle having displayed commendable togetherness throughout the stern test of nerve in Istanbul.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson
How long will Sven be smiling for as England coach?

That is exactly what Beckham had promised and the England captain claimed that delivering a goalless draw was a greater display of team bonding than if Eriksson's side had eased to victory.

But England's automatic qualification means they will not face another competitive match until next summer.

And when the fuzziness of Saturday's celebrations wear off, the fans' feelings of elation will be quickly replaced by the fear of another blast of hot air in the coming days, weeks or even months.

The goalposts are likely to shift again and, while it was a blessed relief to actually watch England play football, it was probably merely a temporary distraction.

The threat of an England players vote of no-confidence against FA chairman Mark Palios still hangs in the air like a bad smell.

Even more nauseating is the continuing talk of Eriksson's future as England manager.

The Swede represents the England players but works for the Football Association and has remained ominously tacit in a week of turmoil.

Eriksson remains stuck between a rock and a hard place - and Chelsea Village must be looking increasingly like paradise.

Qualification for next summer's European finals surely ensures Eriksson will remain with the new England United for at least another term.

But while Saturday's brave draw in Istanbul was cause for celebration, it may only serve to buy all concerned a little more time.

That talk of mutiny has ended with England's players jumping defiantly and resolutely into the same boat.

But the fear remains that their coach will slip quietly away - before rowing away towards his own treasure island.






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