LONDON, Apr 5 (Reuters) England's Football Association is closing in on its choice as the next national manager, with former Celtic boss Martin O'Neill the bookmakers' favourite.
The FA's board met today with the question of who will succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson after the World Cup at the top of the agenda.
An FA spokesman could not confirm media reports that the board were considering a shortlist of three or four candidates.
With the FA's stated aim of having the new man decided before England embark for Germany on June 5, time is short.
The identity of the new man has been a hot topic since January when Eriksson announced his plans to stand down two years early.
O'Neill is the favourite, with William Hill rating him at 11-8 to take over from Swede Eriksson who became England's first foreign manager when he took over from Kevin Keegan in 2001.
From Northern Ireland, O'Neill had an extensive and successful playing career in England and his management spells with Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City and Celtic make him ''less foreign'' than other possible contenders such as Dutchman Guus Hiddink, Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari and Italian Fabio Capello.
O'Neill is seen as a terrific motivator who not only understands but appreciates the English approach to the game.
He stood down from Celtic at the end of last season to take care of his sick wife and a national team post would appear to suit his personal circumstances better than a league position.
For those who feel an Englishman should get the job, the bookmakers have little to choose between Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren and Charlton Athletic's Alan Curbishley, with Bolton Wanderers' Sam Allardyce drifting in the market.
The odds on McClaren, who has the inside track from his role as assistant to Eriksson, have shortened in recent weeks coinciding with Middlesbrough's upturn in form.
Curbishley and Allardyce have made no secret of their desire for the job but their limited exposure to the European game is likely to count against them.
Manchester City's fledgling manager Stuart Pearce is considered a 20-1 shot as is under-21 coach Peter Taylor, who took charge of the senior team for one game in November 2000 after Keegan's resignation.
Today's Guardian newspaper suggested that FA chief executive Brian Barwick, its international committee chairman Noel White, Premier League chairman Dave Richards and FA board member David Dein will withhold details of their shortlist from the association's directors at today's meeting.
That is because of Barwick's fear of a leak. Barwick is being tracked closely by the media looking for clues and the FA admitted Curbishley had been interviewed ''informally'' only after he was photographed leaving a meeting with Barwick.
REUTERS PM RK1855