England in dire need of good news


The venues may have changed, from London to Dubai and then this South Korean palm-tree island in the East China Sea, but for Sven-Goran Eriksson and England, the names, the questions and the agenda remain the same. Injuries continue to dominate England's build-up to the World Cup with, their opening game against Sweden now just 13 days away.

What should be a measured tactical and physical acclimatisation, aimed at getting a team to peak at just the right time, has instead become a daily roll call of limping victims. It is increasingly hard to see a time when that will not be the case.

Not even an atmospheric fog worthy of Twin Peaks sweeping down from the volcano through Jeju's pines could cloud that issue here yesterday, and as the Sweden game moves ever closer, the concerns surrounding David Beckham and Nicky Butt in particular are sure to be amplified. Butt was extremely restrained in training late yesterday afternoon, while Beckham is still some distance from kicking a ball, never mind resisting a tackle. Neither will take part in tomorrow's friendly with South Korea at the futuristic Seogwipo stadium, a short drive from England's hotel.

For the moment, however, interest in the progress of both the Manchester United players has been diluted by the unexpected presence of Newcastle's Kieron Dyer. Having been ruled out of the tournament on Sunday, Dyer then recuperated so successfully that Eriksson decided it was worth the midfielder jumping on three flights and spending 16 hours in the air to make it to Jeju.

From Newcastle to London to Dubai to here, Dyer's world has turned upside down and it was understandable that there was a degree of contradiction in what he said about his wounded knee yesterday. At different times Dyer gave himself three different deadlines which he would have to meet. One of them was last night, one is "three or four days from now" and a third was 24 hours before England kick off against Sweden in Saitama on June 2 .

Having been jogging at near-walking pace for Newcastle's physios on a couple of occasions, Dyer said that yesterday was "the first day of stepping up the rehabilitation. I'll know today deep down. I'll be doing bike work with some resistance and some proper running. I was jogging four days after the injury and Newcastle's medical staff said that was quite remarkable and that I'd have a chance." England's medical team remain to be convinced, but it cannot be said that they have not gone the extra mile for a player Eriksson once again described as "world class" yesterday. "I'm convinced Dyer is a very good player who can make a difference with his runs," Eriksson added, though he acknowledged that Dyer had yet to do that "100 per cent" for him in an England jersey.

Not that Dyer has had much opportunity. His only game under Eriksson consisted of 45 fitful minutes against Paraguay at Anfield a month ago. Dyer recalled that match, and some comforting words from another who was to be struck down, Steven Gerrard.

"In three days' time I'll know if I'm OK," Dyer said. "If there is no chance of me being fit then I'll hold my hands up, you can't do yourself and your team-mates justice in this tournament if you're not 100 per cent fit. It'll hurt me but I've just got to be completely honest." The person who stands to benefit from Dyer's honesty most is Trevor Sinclair. As it stands, Eriksson is still likely to name Dyer ahead of Sinclair in the final 23 by midnight Korean time tomorrow. Eriksson would then withdraw Dyer at the last minute if still short on fitness, which leaves both Dyer and Sinclair in a tender situation - all the more so as Dyer revealed that he and Sinclair have become close over the past couple of months.

"When I heard the bad news the first person I spoke to after my mum was Trevor," Dyer said. "I sent him a text message. On Wednesday when I heard the good news the first person to text me was Trevor." In his next breath Dyer said: "I've got up to June 1." Eriksson echoed that, while listing others still receiving treatment: Sol Campbell (gashed shin), Martin Keown (foot) and Robbie Fowler (hip). The coach said he thought all would be fit soon, but stressed that Dyer would not be in his final squad if he was not ready for the Sweden game.

Perhaps the best guide to Dyer's state of mind is that he has already begun to fantasise about "John Motson saying: 'A month ago he wasn't even on the plane and now he's scored the winner against Sweden'." Eriksson himself has banned the word Sweden from England's camp. In an attempt to create as positive a mood as possible, Gerrard's name has also been temporarily erased from the vocabulary.

"I told the players I don't want any more talk that he's not here," Eriksson said of Gerrard. "Those are negative thoughts. I told the players in Dubai not to think about Sweden for three weeks. If we did that we'd reach the finals mentally exhausted. It's an extremely important game but it's very dangerous to be too tense. You can't start thinking about (Freddie) Ljungberg and (Henrik) Larsson 24 hours a day."