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Dec 15, 2005

Eriksson wary of meeting Germany

England coach Sven Goran Eriksson believes topping group B at next summer's World Cup is vital so as to avoid the possibility of facing host nation Germany in the first knock-out round.

A 5-1 drubbing of England's fiercest rivals in Munich back in September 2001 still stands as the high water mark in Eriksson's five year rein, but the Swede thinks a repeat of that score-line unlikely were the two sides to meet at the finals.

To head a group containing unfancied Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago, England are almost certain to need a positive result against Eriksson's home nation Sweden, the fourth team in the group, in the final match.

It is 37 years since England tasted victory against the Swedes and Eriksson's men could only manage a 1-1 with them at the same stage of the last tournament in Japan.

'37 years is a long time,' Eriksson told ESPN's Press Pass programme in an interview to be aired on Friday, 'but sooner or later we have to beat them and let's hope it is sooner rather than later.

'The reason is Sweden has a very good team, very organised and of course Swedish people know everything about English football.'

The two countries resume hostilities on June 20 in Cologne in what should prove to be the group decider.

'Hopefully we are both qualified at that time,' Eriksson said, 'but anyhow that will be a real game because we want to win the group. Because if you do not win you risk playing Germany in the second game and that is a very, very difficult game.

'The last meeting with Germany was very good but I think that we will not have a 5-1 against Germany in Germany. I think this is a very, very difficult opponent.'

Eriksson admits to knowing little or nothing about England's other opponents, a situation he will rectify through scouting missions between now and June, but is wary of the fact that a side like Trinidad and Tobago, with a number of players hailing from the lower English leagues, will be relishing the prospect of causing a shock at England's expense.

In qualifying Northern Ireland, ranked 109 places below England in the official FIFA rankings, almost derailed their more illustrious neighbours' route to the finals with a historic 1-0 victory at Windsor Park, Belfast in September 2005.

'I think if you lose against Northern Ireland and you are England, you will be criticised and that is fair,' Eriksson candidly concedes. 'Then the critics go above everything sometimes; but that is England and you have to accept that.

'I know we played very badly that night and it was an awful result but at the end we won the group and we qualified so job done, or job half-way done. We will see about the other half in the summer.

Many observers believe that this tournament represents England's best chance of winning the biggest prize in football for the first time in 40 years. With established stars such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen at an age when they should be peaking as footballers, and with the irrepressible Wayne Rooney a totemic inspiration for both club and country, Eriksson is convinced his side has what it takes to go all the way.

'I have always said that we are one of five or six teams that could win,' Eriksson said. 'But if you are talking to football people around the world then 60 or 70 per cent of them will say Brazil [will win]. On paper they have an extremely good team, especially in midfield and up front they have very, very good players.'

The full interview with Sven Goran Eriksson will be broadcast on Friday December 16 on ESPN Press Pass and will be available to view on Soccernet.com from 14.00 GMT on the same day.