Even England victory may not help Swede's popularity

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> England has to win both its final World Cup qualifying games to get to Germany 2006 as group winner.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:51 IST
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It's must win for England. Maybe it's can't win for Sven-Goran Eriksson. England has to win both its final World Cup qualifying games to get to Germany 2006 as group winner. Trailing Poland by five points, the Swede knows that failure to beat Austria on Saturday will hand the Poles a place in the final with a game to spare. Facing criticism Even if England beats the Austrians, however, an increasingly hostile English media is unlikely to let Eriksson take a share of the praise. The papers have been critical of him for months and hold the Swede responsible for a recent slump which has put England in danger of not making it to Germany 2006. A shocking 1-0 loss to modest Northern Ireland has made beating Austria at Old Trafford on Saturday a necessity. If England fails to beat a side it crushed 7-0 in their last meeting on home turf, then the papers won't let Eriksson forget it. "As always, whoever these days is playing England, they want to win," he said Friday. "Because that makes front pages, back pages all over the world.'' And many more pages in England. England also was jeered off the field by its own fans after a 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland in its previous World Cup qualifying game. "I didn't notice that," he said. "You don't notice that when you are playing 90 minutes. I'm a good listener but I listen to what I want to listen to." Eriksson's London home was vandalized for the third time on Monday by someone hurling a brick through his window. But Eriksson said he did not think the incidents were fan related and says he gets backing from the England supporters. "They tell me 'don't listen to the press'," he told reporters. Although Eriksson's relations with the English media haven't reached breaking point, he needs something positive to regain their support. Media criticism Beating both Austria and Poland may do for now. But some of the papers say Eriksson has neither the passion nor the onus to lead England to its first World Cup triumph for 40 years. It's three weeks short of five years since the Football Association announced at the end of October 2000 that the Swede would be England's first foreign coach. While that very concept was strongly opposed by many fans, coaches, players and some branches of the media, public opinion in general was to give him a try. If a succession of English coaches – Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor, Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan – had all failed to win any titles, why not give a talented foreigner a chance? Winning streak When Eriksson took over, England was last in its World Cup qualifying group. The team not only made it to the 2002 finals in Japan/Korea as group winner, it posted a spectacular 5-1 victory over Germany in Munich on the way. In Japan, a 1-0 victory over another traditional England foe, Argentina, had fans dreaming of long overdue success. But a second half flop against 10-man Brazil in the quarterfinal, after England squandered the lead, led to a 2-1 defeat. It was Eriksson's first big failure and he took the blame for some negative tactics. Facing flak The Swede took England to Euro 2004 and, powered by the goalscoring prowess of teenage striker Wayne Rooney, the side again reached the last eight, only to again toss away the lead and lose in a penalty shootout to host Portugal. Although Rooney hobbled off with a broken foot early in the game, Eriksson was blamed once more for making wrong decisions and letting the Portuguese back into the game. With six group victories in a row, England appeared to be cruising to Germany 2006. But a 4-1 loss to Denmark in a friendly in August was England's worst defeat in 25 years. And, after a shaky 1-0 victory over Wales, Eriksson's team flopped to a 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland, a team of journeymen, few of whom had played in the Premier League. Numbers game England could capture a World Cup place on Saturday by beating the Austrians. But that's only if the Dutch beat the Czech Republic and qualify as Group 1 winner. The best two runners up advance automatically along with the eight group winners while the other six go into the playoffs. A loss to the Dutch will mean the Czechs, with three defeats, can no longer be one of the best two runners up. England, with a victory over Austria, will be no matter what happens against Poland. If that happens England fans will cheering Saturday night. But the papers will be praising the Netherlands, not Eriksson. (AP)

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