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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 June 2006, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Sven has something to prove
By Phil McNulty
Chief Football writer in Stuttgart

Sven-Goran Eriksson
Eriksson has plenty to think about before the quarter-finals

England's World Cup campaign is hardly a thing of beauty - in fact it follows a depressingly familiar pattern judged solely on performances.

The victory against Ecuador was the end product of a desperately poor display that was fortunately not punished by arguably the worst side in the last 16.

It was as lifeless as the wins against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago, as unconvincing as the draw against Sweden, and as lacking in freedom and tempo as all England's endeavours so far.

England's play has openly invited criticism, and they will discover plenty of observers have happily taken them up on it.

But this criticism comes against the backdrop of the winning football that has taken England into the World Cup quarter-final, and means it must be placed in context.

Namely, whether by accident or design, England have achieved what would have been their minimum World Cup requirement when they flew to Germany, and they have the power to add to it in next Saturday's quarter-final against Portugal.

So this is not an unbroken tale of bad news - far from it.

Can Eriksson prove his worth by outwitting Scolari, the coach who snubbed his job, at the third time of asking?

BBC Sport's Phil McNulty

Positives came in the shape of Wayne Rooney's vibrant second-half display, when he gained strength and started showing the touches of magic that will make or break England's World Cup ambitions.

Ashley Cole demonstrated he is edging back to his best, especially with a brilliant intervention that denied Carlos Tenorio an early goal.

Frank Lampard also cannot continue to miss the sort of chances he puts away with such expertise for Chelsea.

And the feeling remains that England cannot continue to play as badly given the talent in the side - although they must know a repeat of this shoddy effort in the quarter-final will result in certain elimination for the third tournament in a row at the hands of Luiz Felipe Scolari.

If this is the positive, the negative is that England offered up little hope in Stuttgart to ease fears that the first quality side they meet will send them home, although they were helped by red cards dished out to Portugal's Deco and Costinha.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's game plan continues to be muddled, with the man steeped in 4-4-2 suddenly wanting to experiment with more formations than a ballroom dancer.

England looked uncertain at the back in the first-half, with John Terry having an uncomfortable time that made his selection as official man-of-the-match something of a farce.

David Beckham was disappointing again until he struck brilliantly from a free-kick on the hour, although it later emerged he played when unwell.

Eriksson v Scolaria
Who will win between Eriksson and Scolari this time?

England must raise their game and their tempo next Saturday or they will fall once more at the quarter-final hurdle that has become their big tournament equivalent of Becher's Brook.

They must change style also - they are currently playing at a pace which is alien to them and does not suit them.

It has not worked in Germany so far. This is broken and Eriksson needs to apply the fix and quickly.

A procession of players, particularly Lampard, said as much afterwards, although when some of his colleagues made excuses about the pitch being too dry it was taken as another England moan following hard on the heels of complaints about the heat.

So while there are negatives, England's players can claim the biggest positive of all.

Now, can Eriksson prove his worth by outwitting Scolari, the coach who snubbed his job, at the third time of asking?



SEE ALSO
England 1-0 Ecuador
25 Jun 06 |  World Cup 2006
I proved critics wrong - Beckham
25 Jun 06 |  England
BBC pundits on England
25 Jun 06 |  England
England team guide
22 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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