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The Premier League sack race

Manager Watch less than a minute ago
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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 14, 2006

Crouch earmarked to take on the Rooney role

Peter Crouch is in pole position to take Wayne Rooney's starting place in England's World Cup opener against Paraguay.

Sven-Goran Eriksson admits he would partner Michael Owen with Liverpool hitman Crouch if he had to face the Paraguayans tomorrow.

Eriksson does not want to disrupt his midfield quartet of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole.

He will try to resist the temptation to shunt Gerrard or Cole forward in the 'hole' but this hinges on Owen's fitness to pair up with 25-year-old Crouch.

Eriksson said: 'If I had to do it today I think I would start with Peter Crouch and Michael Owen if he is match-fit.

'That would be the natural choice and playing the four best midfielders. We are talking about Paraguay and things we don't know with Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen but, if it was today, Peter Crouch would be ready. Absolutely.'

Rooney's broken foot is reported to be healing well but he will certainly miss the Paraguay game on June 10.

Eriksson insists Owen, also battling back from four months out with a broken foot, will be ready.

But England face a major reshuffle if he does not make it.

Cole or Gerrard could be asked to play in the second striker's role - but once again Crouch will be the key man.

Eriksson said: 'If Rooney and Owen both have problems then we have lots of choices. We can continue with 4-4-2, with Crouch up top and one behind.

'Or we could play 4-3-3 with Crouch alone and two wingers, and we have lots of wingers. Or we could play 4-5-1 with Crouch up top and five midfielders. So we have options.'

The Swede is unlikely to give Theo Walcott a starting role against Paraguay unless the teenager does something sensational in the next three weeks.

Eriksson said: 'He is in the squad now and let's wat until we practice with him and see how he is with the other senior players.

'How much he plays in the warm-up game depends how many players I have who need to play.'

England's squad players have three games to impress the manager - a B international against Belarus and friendlies against Hungary and Jamaica.

Rooney will not join the England squad until he is ready to train with a football.

Four years ago, David Beckham and Kieron Dyer joined the World Cup squad despite being unable to kick a ball for the first week of England's training camp.

Skipper Beckham hurried back and played through pain to lead his country in Japan but he failed to recapture the brilliant form he showed in the qualifying campaign.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is now worried Rooney may also be tempted rush his recovery, and as a result hurt his foot again.

Eriksson tried to reassure Ferguson by saying: 'You don't play footballers if there is a risk they will break down and be out of football for a month afterwards. That's the most important thing.

'Wayne Rooney is paid by Manchester United and they must look after their interests for Rooney and for the future.

'On the other hand, if he's fit he's fit, and if he's fit nobody can tell him not to play in the World Cup. He is desperate to play.'

Eriksson has spoken of it being worth the risk taking Rooney, even if he is only fully fit and raring to go in time for the final, on July 9.

The Swede added: 'He will join us when he is football-fit. When he starts to train with a football, he will join us. I don't have any deadlines. Maybe July 8!'

Eriksson submits his 23-man squad to FIFA on Monday but he can replace injured players up until 24 hours before England's first game against Paraguay on June 10.