England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has been rocked by the withdrawal through injury of Ashley Cole for the upcoming must-win World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland.
The 24-year-old Arsenal full-back has suffered a stress fracture to his foot and will be replaced by Liverpool left-back Stephen Warnock, who was part of the squad for last month’s matches against Wales and Northern Ireland.
England go into the Group Six games in Manchester against Austria and Poland on October 8 and 12 knowing they must win both to assure their qualification for next year’s World Cup in Germany.
“Of course these next matches are important, we are playing for our World Cup ticket,” said Eriksson, whose 5-4-1 formation against Northern Ireland backfired when the unheralded side beat England 1-0.
“We will be ready for the play-off but we don’t want to, we want to win the group and believe we will.
“We have to take six points and I think if you look from the outside we should be favourites with two home games. We have to play better football.”
Eriksson took heavy criticism after the defeat by Northern Ireland and is keen to redeem himself and erase the memory of that night in Belfast.
“We want to put it right. I look forward to it as much as the players – it’s been a long three and a half weeks since the Northern Ireland game, especially for me. The players have a lot of matches for their clubs but I didn’t have any match.”
Asked if he believes he still has the confidence of the players, Eriksson said: “Absolutely, 100 percent. In football you have to try to win every game and unfortunately sometimes you play better football and lose as we did in the last game.
“That doesn’t change the working relationship with managers, coaches and players. You have to lose a lot more games before that changes.”
But Eriksson admitted another humiliating defeat akin to the one Lawrie Sanchez’s side inflicted is unthinkable.
“It was a very poor performance, especially second half. It can’t happen again. If it happens again the World Cup is flying away.”
Eriksson confirmed that Cole would be out for at least one month with a stress fracture in his foot.
“We took a scan on him when he came and it showed a stress fracture. We are sorry about that and Stephen Warnock has been called up.
“We have options but it is a pity to lose Ashley Cole, probably the best left-back in the world.
“Kieran Richardson is one of the options we have. We have others – Phil Neville could do it and Jamie Carragher could do it. He did it for a long time with Liverpool some seasons ago. So we have options. Then there is Warnock coming in as well.”
“It so often happens when one full-back is injured the other is as well in Gary Neville and Ashley Cole.”
In other squad news, England captain David Beckham has missed training so far because his son is in hospital in Madrid undergoing tests but is expected to join up with the squad on Wednesday.
“He will be back on Wednesday afternoon, so he will be on the training pitch on Thursday morning. I haven’t spoken to him about it but I think he will be okay and hopefully he won’t have any worries about what is happening in Spain,” said Eriksson.
“Is he best on the right flank? Maybe it’s his best position, yes. It’s clear in my mind what kind of line-up I’ll have if nothing special happens this week. Probably it will be 4-4-2.”
Eriksson is confident Owen should be fit to lead the attack, despite having missed Newcastle’s weekend game at Portsmouth.
“He’s going to run on Wednesday and they are quite sure he will be okay for Thursday training although we will have to see. I hope he will be fit,” he added.
Eriksson must then choose between Peter Crouch, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe to partner Owen, with Wayne Rooney out suspended for the Austria game.
“Peter Crouch has done very well for Liverpool so he is one of the options,” confirmed the England coach.
But Eriksson admitted he has a dilemma over which two of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Sol Campbell to play in the centre of defence.
“It is a big decision to take, one of them will be disappointed. We have talked about it for a long time, who is going to be on the bench.
“Now I have to make that decision – I have made it already but I will not tell you.”