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Shizuoka memories that warm Eriksson's heart

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 20: If Sven-Goran Eriksson's spirits ever need a lift between now and the 2006 World Cup, the England manager need only look at the team sheet from their exit in 2002.

Conjuring up memories of their 2-1 quarter-defeat by Brazil on a searing afternoon in Japan may seem an unlikely source of comfort as Eriksson prepares his squad for Germany.

England's first competitive defeat under the Swede shattered the hopes of millions back home and raised doubts about his man-management skills that have lingered in the British media ever since.

Yet a reminder of the side he picked in Shizuoka, compared to the starting XI he has in mind for England's opener against Paraguay in Frankfurt on June 10, shows just how much his team will have improved.

Danny Mills, Trevor Sinclair, Nicky Butt and Emile Heskey are all still worthy Premier League players.

None of them, though, can expect to be remotely near the squad for 2006, and there is even less likelihood of strikers Darius Vassell and Teddy Sheringham being sent on in search of a last-gasp equaliser as they were against Brazil.

BAD LUCK

 A combination of bad luck and limited options led Eriksson to select a team who failed to trouble Brazil in the second half - despite the future world champions playing 33 minutes of it with 10 men after Ronaldinho's red card.

Mills, who forms a Shizuoka trio at Manchester City with Sinclair and Vassell, only made it to Japan after England were struck again by the curse of the metatarsal.

Gary Neville, Eriksson's first-choice at right back, suffered the same bone fracture in his foot that had already sidelined England captain David Beckham a few weeks earlier.

While Beckham recovered sufficiently to play the finals, though not at full strength, Neville was ruled out and replaced by Mills.

Sinclair was even more fortunate to be in Japan, let alone on the pitch.

Danny Murphy was going through one of England's final pre-tournament training sessions on the South Korean honeymoon island of Cheju when he fell awkwardly and felt a sharp pain.

He had joined the broken metatarsal club.

''I was devastated,'' Murphy said later. ''It was probably the worst moment of my career. I have never felt so down.'' Far from being down at the moment of Murphy's impact, Sinclair was 30,000 feet in the air, flying home despondent at no longer being needed as a standby but looking forward to seeing his pregnant wife.

AIR MILES

Given the news of Murphy's injury on arrival, Sinclair spent a couple of days at home before re-starting the now familiar 12,000-mile round trip and going on to earn the nickname ''Air Miles'' from his team mates.

Butt played admirably for England at the 2002 World Cup as a holding midfielder. Yet he too was a stand-in, when it was revealed that first-choice Steven Gerrard would need groin surgery at the end of his Liverpool season. Butt's career has ebbed since 2002. His decision to leave Manchester United for Newcastle left him at a struggling club who then loaned him out to relegation battlers Birmingham City.

A familiar face in the doldrums of St Andrews is Heskey, whose England career plodded on to reach 43 caps and the meagre return of just five goals before grinding to a halt.

Heskey's final England game was marked by a free kick he conceded that allowed France's Zinedine Zidane to fire an equaliser, shortly before the midfielder converted a penalty that sent England to a 2-1 defeat in their opener at Euro 2004.

Two others of the England side in Shizuoka, keeper David Seaman and playmaker Paul Scholes, have since retired.

Seaman, who burst into tears at the end after being caught out by Ronaldinho's speculative matchwinner, quit the game.

Scholes dedicated himself solely to the Manchester United cause after Euro 2004.

Eriksson hopes that two other players who were carrying injuries against Brazil, Beckham and striker Michael Owen, who still managed to score, will be in better shape this time.

The remaining three survivors from Shizuoka are in defence -- Arsenal pair Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, though both have been hit hard by injuries this season, and Rio Ferdinand.

Should all of them pull through, Eriksson has several reasons to be cheerful when he looks at England's latest World Cup line-up.

Heskey's place alongside Owen has gone to Wayne Rooney, the most exciting player in English football in well over a decade.

A lavishly gifted goal maker and goal scorer, Rooney found the net four times at Euro 2004 before he too succumbed to the metatarsal curse in the quarter-finals.

Butt and Scholes have made way for the far more effective pairing of Gerrard and goal-happy Frank Lampard, who has scored nine times in his last 20 England games.

Neville will return at right back, Paul Robinson has replaced Seaman -- and David James -- between the posts and Joe Cole is now playing superbly on the left side once haunted by Sinclair.

Each one is an improvement on his predecessor.

England will go into the 2006 tournament harbouring the same hopes of going all the way as they did in 2002. This time, though, they are clearly better equipped to do so.

REUTERS

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