Wed, May 10, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Eriksson springs surprise with World Cup selection

SOCCER The England manager took a gamble on two untried teenagers, Arsenal's Theo Walcott and Spurs' Aaron Lennon, by adding them to his provisional squad

AFP AND AP , LONDON

Men work at Berlin's Olympic stadium on Monday. The new turf to be used during the FIFA World Cup 2006 will be rolled out during the following days.

PHOTO: AFP

Sven-Goran Eriksson on Monday sprung the biggest surprise of his five-year reign as England coach by including 17-year-old forward Theo Walcott, who has not even played for the Arsenal first team, in his squad for the World Cup finals.

Uncapped Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon, 19, and the left-sided Middlesbrough midfielder Stewart Downing were also included in England's provisional 23-man squad for Germany.

There was no place for Charlton striker Darren Bent, the leading English goalscorer in the Premiership, Tottenham defender Ledley King or, most surprisingly, his team-mate Jermain Defoe, who had to settle for a place on a list of five stand-by players.

As expected, Wayne Rooney was named in the squad as one of only four forwards, despite doubts about whether he will have recovered from his metatarsal injury in time to play any part in the tournament.

Eriksson admitted that his shock decision to include Walcott amounted to a gamble that he could not justify on purely rational grounds.

"Maybe it is not logical," he said. "Sometimes you do it by feelings, and I'm excited by Theo Walcott. I cannot wait to start working with him."

Astonishingly, the Swede revealed that he had decided to take the teenage prodigy, who joined Arsenal from Southampton in January, without ever having seen him play in the flesh.

"I have seen him on videos a lot but never in the flesh," he said. "I have not been able to go and see him playing in the Premiership so, of course, I spoke a lot to Arsene Wenger about it. In this case, what Arsene Wenger said was more important than with all the other players."

Eriksson added: "Of course it is a gamble, I can't deny that. But it is a nice one I think. He is a great talent, the pace he has is incredible, so among 23 players, why not take one gamble?"

Eriksson's boldness in regard to Walcott is partly explained by the success he enjoyed after introducing Rooney to the England team at the same age.

"With Wayne Rooney, we all knew he would become a great player and let's hope Theo Walcott is the same. He is different from Wayne Rooney but we will see," Eriksson said.

Lennon had been included on the strength of his form for Tottenham over the last couple of months. "Every time we went to see him, we got good reports," Eriksson said. "He has pace, he can beat people and he is a good crosser."

On Rooney, Eriksson said the thought of leaving the Manchester United forward at home had never crossed his mind.

"I should be absolutely crazy if I didn't pick him if it is still a possibility that he can play in the World Cup. The England supporters would never forgive me if I did that.

"If we were in the semi-final against Brazil, of course I would be calmer on the bench if Wayne Rooney was fit. But there is nothing we can do but wait and we will know more when he has his next scan," he said.

Eriksson also faces an anxious wait to see if Michael Owen recovers fully from his own metatarsal problem, which has restricted him to one brief substitute appearance for Newcastle since the end of last year.

"Michael Owen I think will be fully 100 percent fit to train with us from Monday," Eriksson said.

"The three friendly games we have before the World Cup will be very important for him -- for other players too but especially for Michael," he said.

Referees ruled out

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