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Last Updated: Monday, 13 October, 2003, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
How far can England go?
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Sven-Goran Eriksson made it the perfect weekend for England by guiding them to Euro 2004 - then finally uttering the magic word.

After the verbal games and evasion about his future, Eriksson at last responded to demands about whether he would lead England to Portugal by simply saying: "Yes."

It may only keep the wolves - or more importantly Chelsea - away from Eriksson's door until the next round of speculation.

But after the trauma of "Riogate" it was a welcome, if guarded and some might even say reluctant, statement of intent.

Eriksson was altogether more open and bullish about England's chances in Portugal - insisting they are one of four countries who can enter the showpiece with real chances of winning.

It was hardly a glittering campaign, but once again Eriksson produced the results required.

So what were the highs and lows of England's campaign? Is Eriksson's optimism justified? And who are the countries who can puncture England's hopes?


England's highs

The uncanny ability of their coach to fashion the results they require on the days they require them is a rare quality.

Think Germany. Think Argentina. Think Turkey - twice.

Beckham is key to England's fortunes

The emergence of Everton's Wayne Rooney, who had an outstanding campaign, has also been a huge bonus.

And the magnificent display from John Terry demonstrated what many are already suggesting, that he is a better natural defender than Rio Ferdinand.

Add these flourishes to the bedrock of Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Michael Owen and the foundations for success are in place.

Eriksson's calm approach has also paid rich dividends and he will be a key figure if he can carry the baggage currently surrounding him until next summer.


England's lows

"Riogate", where a misguided squad led by the nose shamed themselves and temporarily lost the support of the nation in backing Ferdinand, dropped for missing a drugs test.

England's 2-2 draw at home to Macedonia, when David Seaman killed off his international career in a very public fashion with another clanger, was a low point.

Eriksson also saw his side produce a series of low-key performances, most notably in Slovakia, but saw them grind out the results they required.


England's question marks

Goalkeeper David James may feel the heat from Liverpool's Chris Kirkland and Leeds United counterpart Paul Robinson if they produce their best form between now and next summer.

James still fails to inspire total confidence behind a defence that will have to produce greater consistency in Portugal if England are not to come up short again.

Arsenal's Ashley Cole has had a mixed campaign, and even though Steven Gerrard was outstanding on the left side in Istanbul, he must surely be used in a central role to utilise his world-class talent to best effect.

Not sure how many countries would shift Gerrard to accommodate Nicky Butt.


England's rivals

England can be bracketed in an elite quartet of countries who can be considered potential winners from those already qualified.

France will once again be favourites, inspired by Arsenal's trio of Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, as well as the world's greatest player, Zinedine Zidane.

But England can answer with Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes and Owen - an awesome foursome.

Italy have revived under the great Giovanni Trapattoni to recover from an awful start to their campaign.

But they are still not the resilient Italy of old and should hold few terrors for England.

Germany will be in the mix simply because they are Germany - resilient, stubborn, successful.


England's hopes

Eriksson is not given to bold statements, so it reveals inner confidence to suggest England as potential winners of Euro 2004.

England faltered at the World Cup in the quarter-finals, but Owen and Beckham were not fully fit and the injured Gerrard was back home on Merseyside.

If Eriksson can keep his key men fit, integrate the attacking partnership of Rooney and Owen and solve the left-flank puzzle, he may just be in a position to deliver England's first major trophy since 1966.

And then he may be able to leave Soho Square for Stamford Bridge in peace.







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