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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
Midfield marvels
By Jonathan Stevenson
BBC Sport at Old Trafford

England captain David Beckham
Beckham's dead-ball delivery was excellent against Hungary
Much has been made of the fourth metatarsal on Wayne Rooney's right foot over the course of the last month.

The wonder boy with the broken bone is looking increasingly unlikely to be able to play a part in this summer's World Cup finals and England's hopes have taken a hit in the process.

But the country and its coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson, must now focus on the players who will be on the pitch in Germany and who still have the chance to lead England to World Cup glory.

Against Hungary at Old Trafford on Tuesday, the two lads most likely to fill Rooney's match-winning boots came to the party just as it seemed England's pre-tournament friendly with Hungary was going horribly wrong.

Captain David Beckham and playmaker Steven Gerrard showed why England remain a team the rest of the world should fear and why they can still go all the way.

Both produced telling contributions at key stages and proved they have the class to change games with one moment of sublime individual skill - as if it needed proving.

It was hard to believe that only a few days ago parts of the national press had been clamouring for Beckham to be replaced - not only as captain but also on the right-hand side of midfield.

Why? Because of a good performance from exciting young winger Aaron Lennon in an England B international against Belarus.

Not exactly out of the top drawer of reasons to drop an 88-times-capped skipper, who has been his country's talisman for much of the previous six years.

Maybe Beckham has become such an easy fall guy over the past two or three years because he does not play his club football in England and can only really be judged on his intermittent displays in an England shirt.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson
Eriksson must decide on his best midfield formation
The same can be said of Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves, who consistently fails to replicate his much-hyped Bundesliga form when displaying the three lions on his chest.

But Beckham did his talking on the pitch on his old Manchester United stomping ground and showed why he is still a vital cog in Eriksson's wheel.

Without Rooney - and with Michael Owen isolated and out-of-sorts up front - England's best hope of scoring in the first hour against Hungary looked like coming from a set-piece.

In Beckham, they still have surely one of the world's finest exponents of a dead-ball situation.

His deliveries were thrilling, each one dispensed with pinpoint accuracy and deadly venom as the Hungarians time and again found no answer to his precision.

Three times he sought out John Terry and three times he found the centre-back, with one of the crosses nodded in by the Chelsea captain for England's second goal.

Moments before, Beckham had helped to break the deadlock with a wonderfully whipped in ball that allowed Gerrard to nod into the far corner.

Some people suggest that once you take the free-kicks and crosses away, what else does Beckham offer?

But when his centres are providing England with five or six clear-cut chances to score in every game, what more do you need from him?

England midfielder Steven Gerrard
Gerrard is constantly a threat near the opponents' goalmouth
Further upfield, Liverpool captain Gerrard was playing the role of the classic South American number 10.

He was given the role made so iconic by the likes of Diego Maradona, Zico and Ronaldinho - the position-free playmaker.

The number of the shirt was different - Gerrard wore number nine - but it was not difficult to see why Eriksson turned to the Liverpool star.

Given the situation with Rooney and Gerrard's sensational season for the Reds, in which he scored 23 goals, he has also been burdened with the task of providing inspiration for England.

If it seemed like yet another huge gamble on Eriksson's part to ask Gerrard to fulfil a more attacking role than he has played in his career to date, the 26-year-old birthday boy easily bailed out his boss.

Looking in tip-top shape from the start, he took to his floating like a duck to water, cleverly dropping deep to receive the ball and running aggressively at the Hungarian defence in an attempt to unlock it.

He may not have the dazzling deception of Ronaldinho or the gravity-defying dribbling of Maradona but Gerrard is a force to be reckoned with when the ball is at his feet - and he looked like he could cause untold damage.

He also showed the predatory instinct of his old Liverpool team-mate Owen when he found space in a crowded area to meet Beckham's cross and head England into the lead.

With Rooney on the brink of falling off England's World Cup radar, both Gerrard and Beckham need to take on more responsibility for their side's fortunes in Germany.

If they are given enough of the ball to hurt teams and are allowed to focus their attentions on creating rather than stifling, they can make up for Rooney's absence.

Alongside Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, they form part of one of England's most explosively-talented midfields for many a year.

If Eriksson can settle on a formation that suits the players at his disposal, England have the flair to lift the World Cup trophy in Berlin on 9 July.



SEE ALSO
Crouch goal caps England victory
30 May 06 |  England
England v Hungary photos
30 May 06 |  Photo Galleries
England team guide
22 May 06 |  England
World Cup profiles
29 May 06 |  England
Pick your England team
08 May 06 |  Squad selectors
World Cup schedule
25 May 06 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage


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