ENGLAND coach Sven-Goran Eriksson revealed yesterday that Steven Gerrard only has a 50-50 chance of playing in Englandâs opening World Cup qualifier against Austria tonight.
The Liverpool midfielder pulled out of the final 10 minutes of training with a groin injury on Thursday and did not feature in yesterdayâs session.
With Newcastleâs Nicky Butt having been ruled out earlier in the week with a hamstring injury, Gerrardâs potential absence would be a blow to Erikssonâs midfield options.
âI am a little bit concerned about Steven Gerrard, as it is 50-50 whether he plays or not," said the Swede.
"He has a small groin problem and we took a scan.
"We can't see anything, so it is not a serious problem, but still a problem and I don't think he will train.
"We will leave it as late as possible to decide because it's Steven Gerrard.
"The only thing I can say for sure is that, if we suspect his injury could get worse by playing, then he will not play," Eriksson promised.
"Whatever happens, we are quite sure that he should be ready for Wednesday's game."
The England boss also hinted that, if Gerrard does not play, he would be ready to turn to Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips - who scored on his international debut in the friendly against Ukraine - with skipper David Beckham possibly moving into central midfield.
"One option is to bring David Beckham into the centre and have Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. It is a good option," he said.
Beckham said that he would be happy to take over Gerrard's role, adding: "I play there for Real Madrid, so I'm used to that position.
"I'm more than comfortable and capable of playing there."
Eriksson admitted that it was essential for England make a good start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
"It's very important, because you only have 10 games and, if you fail in too many, you don't qualify for the World Cup.
"That would be a disaster for us. Life is much easier for all of us if we win qualification games," he said.
"England are always the favourites - whether that is fair or not I don't know, but that's a fact. It's always very difficult."
The England coach will also be relieved to be playing competitive football again after recent controversy surrounding his private life.
"I never thought about it, I never think about it - I just put the team out as prepared as possible," he insisted.
"It's negative thoughts and that's not good for the squad."
Eriksson said that he was satisfied with his striking options despite the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney, with Michael Owen, Jermain Defoe, Alan Smith and Darius Vassell in the squad.
"I should like Rooney fit, of course. I would like that because of what he showed in Portugal when he was fit, but we have four very good strikers and all seem to be in good shape."
Eriksson believes that England are almost the full shilling, after quarter-final exits at the World Cup and European championships.
"I think we are almost there. The difference between winning and losing in Japan and Portugal is almost nothing," he added.
"This squad will do better and better because it's a young squad."
Beckham, too, was pleased to see that the average age of the England squad has dropped even further after Euro 2004.
"It's a good thing to have young players coming into the team," said the 29-year-old.
"Wright-Phillips is showing he can do it for Manchester City and for England. If he comes into this qualifier, he will perform."
And the Real Madrid midfielder was upbeat about England's chances despite the absence of Gerrard, which he admitted was "always a blow."
"We have got the squad. Others can come in and do a job," said Beckham.
"That's what having young talent is all about - it's about having the resources to do that."
Rooney is still recovering from the foot injury that he sustained as England were beaten in the Euro 2004 quarter-finals by hosts Portugal.
But his absence is "not a big problem," according to Beckham.
"We have players like Jermain Defoe coming though and Darius Vassell," he said.
"Alan Smith is playing great for Manchester United and scoring goals."
Asked whether it was difficult to be ready for such important qualifiers so early in the new season, Beckham added: "We have to be ready at any point in the season to play games like this.
"They are two tough away games and we need to get as many points as we can."
"It is up to us to continue from the friendly (a 3-0 victory over Ukraine) into the game and qualify as quickly as we can. The players are ready."
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