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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
England confused or in control?
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Baden-Baden

Sven-Goran Eriksson (left)and Steve McClaren
Eriksson and McClaren insist the team spirit is fantastic

Steve McClaren has kept a low media profile during the World Cup - a deliberate ploy to ensure England's coach-in-waiting does not take attention away from Sven-Goran Eriksson's final games.

So it was a sign of the frustration within England's camp that McClaren was finally paraded in an attempt to scotch claims of tactical confusion and discontent inside the squad at their Baden-Baden base camp.

Whispers of various formations being tried and dumped and of players being in then out of the side have been rife throughout this stuttering England World Cup campaign.

All have been fiercely and publicly denied by England coach Eriksson and his players.

Eriksson was asked point-blank 24 hours before England's World Cup win against Ecuador in Stuttgart how many formations he had tried in training before settling on Michael Carrick's return and Wayne Rooney's lone role up front.

It was a question that was clearly heavily loaded and justifiably prompted by talk that England's preparations were, to say the least, flexible.

The answer: "One. One."

Eriksson's own actions have not helped clear up images of a muddled game plan, with Jamie Carragher suddenly appearing in a holding role in warm-up games, then Owen Hargreaves having a stab against Sweden.

Hargreaves did so well in the role he was instantly rewarded with a switch to right-back in place of Carragher against Ecuador.

For now, England are in the World Cup quarter-finals so results can be used as a shield to deflect questions about confusion

And then enter Carrick. Seemingly forgotten - suddenly recalled.

Confused?

The end result, for the first half at least against Ecuador, was a succession of aimless long passes punted towards an increasingly frustrated Rooney and almost nullifying Carrick's presence.

There are already whispers about various midfield combinations for Saturday's quarter-final against Portugal, but we have learned not to second-guess the newly-experimental Eriksson.

It was not without evidence that many of us following England have scratched our heads and wondered how exactly these decisions are being reached? And who is reaching them?

Eriksson has always been a coach who likes to talk over options with his senior players - he has admitted as much in the past.

Part of the problem, the catalyst for speculation, has been Eriksson himself.

In spite of the complete confidence he has shown in the team, there is an underlying feeling he is lacking a sense of direction in Germany, a sense of certainty about the best way to win this World Cup.

The Swede's resolve and sure touch in his dealings with Manchester United over Rooney's injury has not always extended to his tactics out here.

Eriksson and McClaren make an intriguing double act.

In the brief glimpses of training in front of the media, McClaren does all the talking, organising and overseeing warm-ups.

ARE ENGLAND REALLY PLAYING WELL?
After four games we are playing better and better and the best will come

Sven-Goran Eriksson

If we perform badly, or any worse than we are now, we could go out

Steven Gerrard

Eriksson appears to have a watching brief, making the odd observation.

Sammy Lee takes the players through their paces before serious training begins and has been seen refereeing practice matches - while Ray Clemence works England's three goalkeepers.

Eriksson's long-time right-hand man Tord Grip has what appears to be an unspecified role as his fellow Swede's side-kick.

In matches McClaren is the man in the technical area, pen and paper in hand, scribbling away and occasionally exhorting the troops.

Presumably he is passing on Eriksson's orders with permission to dish out a few of his own.

Eriksson, as always, sits motionless in the dug-out. Indeed one of his most animated moments in a shocking first 45 minutes against Ecuador was to step forward neatly and return the ball for a throw-in.

Again, his contribution seems minimal.

In training, McClaren is apparently the man behind defensive organisation, hardly a heart-warming thought for the future under his leadership given the shambles at set-pieces against Sweden - although there was a clear improvement against Ecuador.

McClaren revealed Eriksson told him the team he wanted to face Ecuador on Wednesday, and the England camp has now gone on the offensive as questions mount about how the show is being run.

Joe Cole and Sven-Goran Eriksson
Cole has backed Eriksson's decisions

Eriksson is the front man, and McClaren was in combative mood when asked about suggestions the players were baffled by the system they were asked to play against Ecuador.

He said: "That is total rubbish. Attention to detail is the key to winning football matches and that's what we worked on. We were very happy with the preparation and everything we worked on."

Joe Cole also insists the players are happy with their orders against Ecuador: "It's good. It shows we have different options. It shows we have got players who can come and improve things - it's looking good."

Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole added their approval, although comments from players about Eriksson are hardly likely to be prefaced with "the coach is a buffoon", with places in a World Cup quarter-final at stake.

Eriksson is the man making the final decisions and the man who will either take the blame or the glory.

For now, England are in the World Cup quarter-finals so results can be used as a shield to deflect questions about confusion.

But defeat against Portugal and the inquests will start, for both Eriksson and McClaren.

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