Terry boosts England before crunch qualifier

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LONDON COLNEY, England, Nov 20 (Reuters) Injured England captain John Terry trained with his squad today, boosting morale before their final Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia.

A bullish coach Steve McClaren, convinced England would earn the point they need to reach next year's finals alongside Croatia, said Terry would not be fit to play at Wembley tomorrw but described his presence as ''fantastic''.

McLaren said he had picked the team for the final Group E game but would not say whether David Beckham, Terry's predecessor as captain, was in the starting lineup.

''You need players with big match experience for these games, but you also need the innocence of youth,'' he said.

Until Israel beat Russia 2-1 in Tel Aviv last Saturday, England's chances of reaching the finals in Austria and Switzerland looked slim but Israel's victory meant they needed only to draw their last qualifier.

''When we play as a team then we can beat anyone,'' McClaren told reporters at England's training base just north of London.

''I have no doubts we are going to do the job and qualify and take this team forward and get even better.'' DIFFICULT DECISIONS Croatia come to Wembley leading the group with 26 points from their 11 matches.

England have 23 points and Russia 21. Russia are almost certain to beat Andorra to finish on 24 points so England are likely to need at least a draw to reach the same total and finish ahead of Russia on a better head-to-head record.

McClaren said, aside from Beckham, his other difficult decision concerned which goalkeeper to play.

''I understand why there has been debate about that but it's my job to make difficult decisions and I have done.'' Goalkeeper Paul Robinson has played in all 11 qualifiers so far, but could lose his place to either the experienced David James or 22-year-old Scott Carson, who made his debut for England in Friday's 1-0 friendly win over Austria and hardly had to make a save.

Beckham will win his 99th cap for England if he is picked.

McClaren said as well as Terry, who is recovering from knee surgery, injured and suspended senior players Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand would join team mates to support them tomorrow.

''We started together and it's important we finish together.

It has been a long, hard journey,''McClaren said.

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said, unlike his side who had already qualified, England were under great pressure.

''I suppose they will come at us straight from the kickoff but I am sure they won't throw caution to the wind.'' ''We want to end the campaign in the best way imaginable, with a win if possible. I expect my players to be calm and composed and we won't be overawed by the atmosphere at Wembley Stadium,'' Bilic said before leaving for London.

''Our squad is made of players who play for big clubs and perform in a similar atmosphere every week and we have come here to show what we are made of.'' REUTERS RAR BST2145

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