Sven holds England auditions

March 30, 2004
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

With a host of first choice players either rested or sidelined, England's friendly with Sweden has become more of an audition than preparation for this summer's European Championships.

Five new faces join the fringe players in a makeshift squad to battle it out for a place at Euro 2004 after manager Sven Goran Eriksson agreed to omit the majority of the big three's England contingent with important domestic fixtures looming.

Arsenal and Manchester United, who drew 1-1 at Highbury on Sunday, meet again in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday and title chasing Chelsea were also shown generosity by the Swede in light of their Champions League campaign.

But the absence of Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Wayne Bridge, Frank Lampard, Kieron Dyer, Michael Owen, Chris Kirkland and the suspended Rio Ferdinand means that England's hopefuls will get some playing time.

Wednesday's match in Gothenburg is the final international before Eriksson names his provisional party for the European Championships on May 17 and squad debutants such as Man City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips and Celtic midfielder Alan Thompson will be desperate to impress.

Spurs striker Jermaine Defoe and Villa defender Jlloyd Samuel also received their first call-ups, along with Norwich keeper Robert Green, who is the least likely of the new quintet to get any playing time.

Despite impressing Eriksson with his performances for Division One leaders Norwich, the 24-year-old goalkeeper is tagging along for the experience. It's a safe bet that the former Canaries apprentice won't be going to a major international tournament just yet.

Thompson, on the other hand, has been tipped for a call-up since September last year and his presence in the England set-up is long overdue. As the only recognised left-sided midfielder in the squad, and probably the best Englishman in that position, he will be under pressure to impress with a place in the final 22 a real possibility.

Thompson certainly has the experience at club level. He has two Champions League campaigns, one UEFA Cup final, one Scottish Cup winner's medal and two SPL championship titles under his belt, but at 30-years-old this solitary match will be make or break for the former Aston Villa player's international chances.

Euro 2004 may come too soon for fellow debutant Jermain Defoe, after being promoted through the England ranks, but the former Under-21 international is expected to become an England regular.

Earlier this season the 21-year-old striker left relegated West Ham as the club's top scorer and joined Premiership side Spurs, scoring four goals in his first three games. Defoe, who equalled a Football League record by scoring in 11 consecutive games whilst on-loan at Bournemouth, is a definite bonus for an England forward line which lacks quality in depth.

Left-back is position of fierce competition in the England set-up and Samuel is set to make his debut in the absence of Bridge and former Senrad Under-10s teammate Ashley Cole.

Samuel has been a mainstay of David O'Leary's revolution at Villa Park and scored under Eriksson's gaze against Charlton on Saturday. The 24-year-old defender is another product of the FA's youth system that will make the step-up to senior level, but with the aforementioned duo ahead of him it's unlikely he will make the Euro 2004 party.

It could be a different story for fellow debutant Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has made a series of eye-catching display's for his struggling club this season. The 22-year-old caught England assistant Tord Grip's attention with a goal-scoring performance against Liverpool in early-February and was singled out by Eriksson's right-hand man.

Chelsea full-back Bridge claimed Wright-Phillips was the toughest opponent he had played against this season following their clash at Stamford Bridge and as the only recognised right-winger in the England squad is expected to display his skills in Gothenburg.

Alan Thompson
GettyImages / CliveRoseThompson: Euro 2004 chance

The converted striker's pace and dribbling skills have been exciting Man Ciy fans all season - especially his derby goal against Manchester United - and his ability to go past players offers England something the midfield had previously lacked.

With all the eager talent bursting to stake their claim in the absence of the usual suspects, Wednesday night's match looks more intriguing than the average run-of-the-mill friendly. However, the usefulness of the clash depends if Eriksson fields an experimental side or opts to give every player a run-out in the usual farcical fashion.

Sweden have already stated that they will not make wholesale substitutions and because the match makes up part of the SvFF (Svenska Fotbollförbundet/Swedish FA) centenary celebrations, Eriksson may stick with roughly the same team against his compatriots.

Having played Sweden so often over the past few years it may seem a little strange that England would opt to play them yet again as preparation for Euro 2004, but with two Swedes at the helm England were never going to turn down the chance to take part in the celebration - especially as the two countries share nearly 100 years of football history.

The two teams first did battle at the 1908 Olympics in Paris, just four years after the SvFF was founded. England beat the Swedes 12-1 en-route to claiming the tenuous title of the first ever World Champions.

Despite ties that date back 96 years it was not until 1923 that Sweden and England played their first full international in the Olympiastadion, Stockholm. England ran out 4-2 winners in the inaugural match and a second match, or re-match, was arranged at the same location just three days later.

England ran out 3-1 winners and the FA dutifully archived the result and recorded it as an official international while their Swedish counterparts did not - the validity of the match is still in dispute.

So depending on which side you take the match in Gothenburg will be either the nineteenth or twentieth clash. As far as the FA are concerned England have won six, drawn eight and lost five and Wednesday offers Sweden the chance to level the historic score with a victory.

Sweden got there first win under English manager George Raynor in 1947 and since making that breakthrough the Swedes have held something of a hoodoo over the national team. England have failed to chalk up a win since 1968, in ten attempts.

But it will be more than history that is one the line on Wednesday night; Euro 2004 places are also up for grabs.

  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.