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By ESPN Staff

Eriksson defends selection of Hargreaves

Sven-Goran Eriksson has defended his decision to take Owen Hargreaves to the World Cup.

Hargreaves has not played international football since England's 1-0 defeat in Northern Ireland in September.

He was forced to miss the last three squads with a groin injury, which needed surgery in February but is back in action for Bayern Munich.

Eriksson watched the versatile midfielder last week and it was enough to earn him a place in his World Cup squad of 23.

The England boss said: 'After his injury, he's now played the last 11 matches for Bayern.

'I went over to see him last week against Stuttgart and he was one of the best on the pitch, playing as a sitting midfielder.

'He is also versatile.'

When fit, Hargreaves has never failed to make an Eriksson squad since his first call-up for the friendly against Australia in 2003.

The England boss sees him as someone who can help close a game, coming on for a more attack-minded midfielder when the team are protecting a lead.

Hargreaves has won 22 of his 29 caps as a substitute. He can also offer cover as an emergency right-back.

Eriksson crammed his World Cup squad with nine midfielders, opting to risk one less defender than normal and take only four strikers, despite fitness doubts over Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

The Swede stunned the nation by gambling on 17-year-old Theo Walcott and uncapped Aaron Lennon, 19.

He also included Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing, who has only one cap, after the left-winger's dazzling display in the UEFA Cup semi-final second leg against Steaua Bucharest.

Eriksson said: 'On his recent form he deserves it. I've seen him play three times recently.

'In the semi-final of the UEFA Cup he set up three goals. That impressed me greatly.

'With all these young players - Downing, Lennon and Walcott - it will be good not just for me but also for them.

'And it will be good for England in the future for them to come to this World Cup and experience the biggest games in football.'

The England boss had to give several Premiership stars the chop including Jermain Defoe, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Darren Bent and Ledley King.

He admits his toughest decision was to drop Tottenham's Defoe on to the stand-by list to make way for Arsenal's rookie striker Walcott.

Eriksson said: 'He was so close and has never done anything wrong for England.'