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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Will Gerrard blow cost England dear?
Steven Gerrard shoots against Holland
Gerrard in typically adventurous form for England

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Steven Gerrard's injured groin has finally cost him his World Cup place.

What are the implications for England? And is anyone to blame for the loss of the midfield tyro?


Last-gasp gambles

Gerrard injured his groin in the final game of Liverpool's season. Although the club needed to win to clinch second place in the Premiership, was playing a man with a history of injury an unacceptable risk?

Steven Gerrard balances a football on his forehead
Gerrard's precocious talents will be sorely missed
Probably not. Gerrard's injury could just as easily have happened in training, in one of England's warm-up games or during the World cup tournament proper.

While he has missed 14 matches through injury this season, he has still played a part in 50 games - 45 for club and five for country.

This does not suggest that Gerrard was so fragile that he should not have played against Ipswich last Saturday.


Trouble in the engine-room

How big a blow to Sven-Goran Eriksson's plans is Gerrard's absence?

Sure, the Liverpool man is only 21, and has played just 10 games for his country. But his loss will probably be felt even more keenly than David Beckham's would have been.

England have suffered unexpected blows to key personnel in other World Cups and adjusted well.

Think of the way that the loss of Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins freed up Bobby Robson's side in Mexico 16 years ago.

But Gerrard is a 21st century midfielder in the same manner as Patrick Vieira. He works, he tackles, he covers for his back four - and he also has a range of passing which is the equal of anyone in Eriksson's squad.

There is also the matter of his understanding with his club colleagues Michael Owen and Emile Heskey.

That pair are Eriksson's first choice up front, and Gerrard - more than any other England midfielder - knows the type of runs they like to make and how to play them in.

If you want proof, look at England's results in the 10 games Gerrard has played - they have not lost once.


Filling the hole

Who can come in to replace Gerrard? Forget the fact that Trevor Sinclair has been called up as a late replacement - he is no more likely to play through the middle than Danny Mills.

When Gerrard played on the right in Beckham's absence against Paraguay, Nicky Butt came in alongside Paul Scholes in the centre - and as long as Butt gets over his knee ligament problem, that is the likely pairing for the Sweden game.

Steven Gerrard surges forward for England
Is there anyone who can fill Gerrard's boots?
If Eriksson wants more creativity, he could move Beckham inside and play Sinclair or Owen Hargreaves on the right.

But Sinclair is better on the left and Hargreaves may already have been earmarked to take over from Gary Neville at right-back.

And unless Eriksson reveals a hitherto hidden gambling streak, Joe Cole will still have to bide his time on the substitutes' bench.


Seven into 23 does not go

With Kieron Dyer also unlikely to travel to Japan, the balance of Eriksson's original squad now comes under scrutiny.

He picked seven midfielders, five strikers and eight defenders - a balance that leans heavily in the direction of caution.

Spain's coach Jose Antonio Camacho, by contrast, will be taking 10 midfielders.

Of Eriksson's eight defensive picks, five are central defenders. Was there really any need to pick both Danny Mills and Wes Brown, when both do the same job of providing cover at full-back and centre-back?

If he had taken just one of the two, it would have freed up another place in the midfield - which could have been taken by Steve McManaman or Darren Anderton, experienced internationals who could only have added to Eriksson's options.

If Butt does not regain his fitness - or, God forbid, Beckham suffers a relapse - the midfield blend will have gone from intoxicating to unconvincing at exactly the wrong time.


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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1

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