Back to front: England midfield can cover young defence
England are currently brimming with top-calibre talent on paper, but unfortunately for Sven Goran Eriksson, he has a boatload of injuries and doubts throughout the squad. Following a respectable, even promising, performance at the European Championships in Portugal this summer, the Swedish boss will be eager for the revival of captain David Beckham that started in the friendly against Ukraine to continue. A patchwork back line and the continuing search for a left-sided midfielder also plague the manager.
First up for the 1966 FIFA World Cup champions is Austria. The two will meet on 4 September at 20.30 local time in Vienna -- a match that will be carried LIVE on FIFAworldcup.com's Matchcast Lite. For now, join us in looking at a dangerous England side, from back to front.
Coach: Swede Sven feels the heat
In 2001 Sven Goran Eriksson became the first foreign-born boss to take over the English national side, and ever since the Scandinavian tactician has felt the weight of expectation in one football's biggest jobs. Eventually earning the trust and respect of his players and most of the country, Eriksson has amassed a respectable competitive record of 15 wins, 6 losses and two draws. Simultaneously criticised and praised as something of a tinkerer,' the boss, who has seen coaching success in his native Sweden, Portugal, and Italy, has become one of the most famous faces in international football. But respect and fame aside, Eriksson's England future rests squarely on his ability to see England safely through to Germany 2006.
Defence: Arsenal duo to lead from deep, but not from the start
With standout performances in Portugal, Arsenal's defensive tandem of Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole will prove crucial during FIFA World Cup qualifying. However, the two will not line up together against Austria in the opener as Campbell is still finding his fitness at the start of the English league season. Expected to be on the bench alongside Newcastle-turned-Real Madrid man Jonathan Woodgate, Eriksson will need to wait a while before he can link up the deadly Arsenal duo.
Out on the left though, Cole is fit as a fiddle and has come into his own for both club and country. Up against Portugal, and more specifically the trickery of persistent Cristiano Ronaldo in the quarter-final of Euro 2004, Cole's class shone through. An outside back with the peculiarly modern ability to get forward, he relishes the hard work too.
With Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and Woodgate out for the Austria clash, Sven has a workable if inexperienced central defensive stand-in tandem in Tottenham's Ledley King and Chelsea's John Terry. The two looked solid up against the admittedly poor Ukrainians, but the athleticism and determination the understudies bring to the table might well get the job done. The two 23-year-olds are expected to hold the centre of defence for at least the first two vital qualifiers in Austria and Poland.
"They may not be as experienced as Campbell and Ferdinand," Eriksson recently said. "But they are very good players."
Rio Ferdinand, currently serving out an eight-month suspension for a missed drugs test, will be available for selection on 20 September. But with all this competition in a crowded rearguard, he may have to fight for his spot along with his match fitness.
In the net, David James' solid performances in Portugal saw him finally shed his tragic "Calamity" moniker surely a relief for Sven and all of England.
Midfield: Becks' return to form, but no more Scholes goals
Following an anonymous Euro 2004, Real Madrid starlet and captain David Beckham has made every assurance that he will be back to his old tried and true form in time to lead by example through the Germany 2006 qualifiers. As skipper, he offered a glimpse of his desire and dedication in a recently friendly with the Ukraine. Working hard and looking every inch the old dynamo that rose like a phoenix from the Manchester United youth ranks, he even managed a goal from the run of play. With his crossing ability and devastating effectiveness from set pieces, Austria and the rest should well beware.
Beside the international icon Beckham stands his opposite in terms of public appeal. Liverpool staple Stephen Gerrard is the old battling archetype. Mean in the tackle, delightful with a long ball and always willing to bleed for the cause, he has fast emerged as one of England's most respected and dependable midfielders. He may not have the flash of Becks, but his yeoman's work and surprising elegance on the ball have him in the running as one of Sven's top men in the middle. The revelation of England's midfield during Euro 2004 was surely Chelsea's Frank Lampard. Finally delivering the kind of delightful performances that saw him shoot up the ranks at the moneyed London club, he was an absolute menace on both sides of the ball.
But with Paul Scholes now enjoying his early international retirement, England are again left with worries on the left side. With no more Scholesy' to deputise in the bogey spot, Eriksson will have to find himself another patch to work.
Attack: A set of striking strikers
Though injury-prone Michael Owen has looked a little overwhelmed at times since breaking onto the scene back at France 98, the recently signed Real Madrid man can be counted out to score crucial goals at critical times. However, only one tally in the whole of Euro 2004, will surely have the buzzards circling, particularly if he fails to get a game at the Bernabeu
In stark contrast to Owen's relative woes, 18-year-old wunderkind' Wayne Rooney garnered all the plaudits in Portugal. His four goals in four appearances saw the Toffee splashed across the front pages on a daily basis. Powerful, willing and able to run at defenders and with a nose for goal like few other, it was no wonder the Brits were labelling the stout powerhouse Roonaldo' and the Next Pele.' Though it remains to be seen just how far this young star can rise, Germany 2006 qualifiers will prove a fine testing ground. Though still recovering from a broken foot picked up against the hosts at Euro 2004, he is sure to figure in Sven's not-so-distant future plans.
Off the bench: jokers in the pack
With recent revelations Sean Wright-Phillips and Jermaine Defoe coming off the bench, Eriksson will have a little extra firepower in reserve. Going forward, Man City's Wright-Philips - stepson to Ian Wright - is as skilful and deceptive as he is tiny. And Tottenham's Defoe is a true poacher, a deadly finisher in front of goal. It is only a matter of time before he opens his England account. Aston Villa's Darius Vassel will also be looking to get a bite at the cherry.
Also Newcastle trio Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas and Nicky Butt will be sure to chip in a thing or two in midfield.
Check out FIFAworldcup.com's state-of-the-art Matchcast Lite and go right inside selected key clashes from around the globe. Keep up to the moment with the all the stats, exciting incidents, polls, trivia and expert analysis in four languages right on your computer screen. First up in real time on FIFAworldcup.com's Matchcast Lite is Austria v. England (4 September, 20.30 local time) and Netherlands v. Czech Republic (8 September, 20.30 local time).