Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 20 News List

England believes it is ready to face France in Euro '04

AP , MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

Tiring players, a captain with a niggling ankle injury and a mixed reaction to a remodeled midfield. But coach Sven-Goran Eriksson thinks England's preparation for the European Championship is right on track.

England was held to a 1-1 friendly draw by Japan on Tuesday in its penultimate warmup for its opening Euro 2004 match against France in Lisbon, Portugal, on June 13.

After a fast-paced opening half hour, during which Michael Owen scored his 25th international goal, England tired, its attacks reduced to long balls to its forwards. An energized Japan, preparing for a World Cup qualifier against India on June 13, leveled with a Shinji Ono strike in the second half.

Eriksson praised England's play, but said tiredness took its toll on his "strongest 11."

"I think we played excellent football in the first 35 minutes, fantastic, it was a long time ago that I've seen them play such attacking football," Eriksson said. "They got a little bit tired after the second half."

Eriksson said training sessions on Monday and Tuesday morning contributed to the fatigue, but said England would qualify for the second stage of Euro 2004 "if we play football as we did in the beginning of the game." England also plays Croatia and Switzerland.

Beckham said his ankle was a "bit sensitive" and he hadn't trained for 10 days.

"But it is not a problem," Beckham said.

Eriksson said his captain's ankle "shouldn't be serious if you think about 13 June."

Eriksson chose Chelsea's Frank Lampard ahead of the more defensively minded Nicky Butt at the base of his midfield diamond because "he deserves a chance."

"I think the first half, he played excellent, good positions defending, good positions attacking," Eriksson said, before adding: "We'll see. I haven't decided yet.

"I wouldn't say that Nicky Butt and Frank Lampard are exactly the same kind of players but I'm sure that Frank can do the job there just as Nicky would have done."

Lampard said he had to curb his instincts to push forward.

"I did find it hard but you can still play there and get forward sometimes," he said.

Butt, who played at the 2002 World Cup and in the qualification campaign for Euro 2004, lost his starting place after struggling to play for Manchester United. He came on for Lampard in the 82nd minute.

Beckham said the new system "worked well," but admitted he was tired after the domestic season.

"It's about hard work and playing together," Beckham said. "I don't know [that it is the best system], it is a new system.

"But we were all feeling the pace after 35 minutes. It was a good fitness test and we can take a lot from the first 35 minutes but we all suffered from not having a good rest."

Japan's defense proved difficult to get past and England's first goal had an element of luck. Steven Gerrard's drive was parried by Japan goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki and Owen ran forward to tap in the rebound in the 22nd minute.

Japan equalized eight minutes into the second half, with Nakamura's cross finding Ono, who scored through the legs of England goalkeeper David James.

England names its final 23-man squad for Euro 2004 on Wednesday. Eriksson said he would make changes for the final warmup match against Iceland on Saturday, also at the City of Manchester Stadium.

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