Eriksson gets the answers to tactical puzzle
MANCHESTER, England, Jun 4: Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson could ask for little more from England than their 6-0 rout of Jamaica as they prepare to start the World Cup without Wayne Rooney.
Their often-criticised striker Peter Crouch got a hat-trick, Michael Owen scored his first goal of the year and the midfield tandem of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard looked impressive.
The only blot on the copybook was Crouch's lackadaisical penalty miss in the closing minutes at Old Trafford.
Eriksson was infuriated that a chance to simulate the deadly serious task of spot-kicks -- which have caused England such agony in past tournaments -- had been treated as a joke.
However, his hat-trick and Rooney's broken foot meant Eriksson had little choice but to confirm Crouch as Owen's partner in Saturday's Group B opener against Paraguay.
It will mark an extraordinary transformation for a player who failed to score in his first four months with Liverpool last season, was booed by England fans against Poland last October and is the butt of jokes for his spindly 6ft 7in frame.
But Crouch has now scored five goals in his last three full internationals and a somewhat ridiculous 'robot dance' goal celebration has sudddenly endeared him to the English public.
The fact that all three of his goals yesterday came from his out-sized feet and not from his head will also answer some critics of his footballing ability.
It was also an important game for Owen, whose fitness for the finals had been a cause of concern given his lengthy recovery from breaking a bone in his foot in December.
He had played only an hour of a 2-1 defeat by Belarus on May 25 in a 'B' international and just 65 minutes of Tuesday's 3-1 friendly win over Hungary.
''I was pleased with his performance, he played much better than Tuesday,'' Eriksson said. ''His was one of the biggest answers from the game and he did 90 minutes which was very good.'' With Rooney waiting for a scan on Wednesday to discover if he can play any part in the finals, Owen's 36th goal in 77 England appearances was a welcome reminder of a proven track record.
In midfield, Lampard and Gerrard looked more settled than in previous performances and gave Eriksson an opportunity to round on his critics of the pairing.
''People still have doubts that Gerrard and Lampard can play together, but for me it is absolutely incredible that anyone can discuss that,'' he said. ''They were playing extremely well together.'' Yesterday's drubbing of a side chosen for their similarity to future Group B rivals Trinidad&Tobago also suggested England are happier with a conventional 4-4-2 formation.
The Hungary game, in which Gerrard played as a second striker behind Owen and defender Jamie Carragher was pushed up into a midfield holding role, sparked questions over England's tactics so close to the finals.
Though the more defensive system may reappear in England's final group game against Eriksson's native Sweden, Owen and Crouch will board tomorrow's plane knowing they will lead the goal hunt in Germany.