England need two more wins to qualify

England needs only to win its last two games to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals as the group winner.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:51 IST
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England needs only to win its last two games to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals as the group winner. It sounds easy, especially with both games at home, but Sven-Goran Eriksson knows it may not be. The Swede will be dreading the headlines if his team loses to Austria at Old Trafford on Saturday to leave qualifying for Germany still in doubt. After all, England's last three games - two losses and an unconvincing victory - led to calls for his firing. "I am quite sure that we will play in the World Cup next summer. I'm convinced about that," said Eriksson, who said he was not scared of losing his 4 million pound (US$7.1 million) a year job. "I'm never thinking about my job as being out there. I never think about that as manager before important games. What happens happens." Focus on form Last month's 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland left England five points behind Poland in Group 6 after Eriksson's team appeared to be comfortably headed to the World Cup two months ago. Failure to beat the Austrians on Saturday will hand a qualifying spot to the Poles as group winners and may leave England facing the lottery of the runners-up playoffs. Waiting there could be the likes of Spain, Turkey or European champion Greece. To avoid that, Eriksson has to recreate the form England displayed a little over a year ago when his team won 2-1 in Poland, the first of six consecutive Group 6 victories. England's recent form could be attributed to the domestic season having started in late August. But the 4-1 loss to Denmark in a friendly was England's worst result in 25 years and Eriksson lost his unbeaten record of 21 qualifying games when the journeymen from Northern Ireland outplayed his highly touted side. "I still feel hurt from Northern Ireland game," Eriksson said. "It's 3 1/2 weeks since we played Northern Ireland. They've been long weeks, especially for me. The players have had lots of matches in between with their clubs. I didn't have any match." Facing flak Eriksson, strongly criticized for adopting a 4-5-1 formation in Belfast, said he would revert to 4-4-2 against Austria, although Wayne Rooney will miss the game because of suspension. That means he will restore David Beckham to his right sided role in midfield alongside Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard rather than behind them. In attack, he will decide whether Liverpool's Peter Crouch, Tottenham's Jermain Defoe or Charlton's Darren Bent will join Michael Owen. With leftback Ashley Cole unavailable for both games with a stress fracture in his right foot, he has to chose between the versatile Jamie Carragher or Kieran Richardson, veteran Phil Neville or newcomer Stephen Warnock. The Austrians go into the game with no chance of qualifying and having fired coach Hans Krankl a week ago. Payer to be goalkeeper They have decided to field the comparatively inexperienced Helge Payer in goal instead of Juergen Macho, who has played in England with Sunderland. "I'm delighted to play at Old Trafford, it's a dream come true," the Rapid Vienna goalkeeper said. "We used to see and admire (the England players) on TV and now we will face them on the field." England will have plenty of quality on show at Old Trafford, but will recall how the team surrendered a 2-0 lead in Vienna and was held 2-2. The last time it met the Austrians on home turf was a 7-0 friendly victory at Wembley in September 1973. Alf Ramsey's victory came a month before a World Cup qualifying game at home to Poland. That was a 1-1 draw and led to England failing to qualify for the following year's World Cup. By coincidence, that also was in Germany. (AP)