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Eriksson won't be drawn on players' late night drinking

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Posted: Friday October 05, 2001 8:26 AM
Updated: Friday October 05, 2001 12:46 PM

MANCHESTER, England (AP) -- England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said the late night drinking antics of three of his players won't affect his team selection for Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Greece.

"I don't think any of the players picked have let England or their manager down, or anything like that," Eriksson said Friday. "I still think they are very professional and are working very hard.

"I should be much more worried if I saw players on the pitch doing badly, playing bad football and not being able to cross the ball, pass the ball or score goals."

Robbie Fowler looks set to start with Emile Heskey up front, despite reportedly going out drinking with England teammate Steve McManaman in Liverpool in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Midfielder Steven Gerrard will also play after apologizing to Eriksson for being out in a Southport bar the same night.

"Steven Gerrard doesn't owe me a performance," Eriksson said. "I hope he will play well and I'm sure he will play as well as he always has but it's absolutely not a question about that.

"Sometimes you have to look into a player's eyes. I can see they are very focused on the game."

England must beat Greece at Old Trafford on Saturday to automatically qualify for the World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.

But preparation has been overshadowed by the drinking controversies surrounding Gerrard, Fowler and McManaman.

"Reading, talking, listening to things so far this week, it has been everything except football and I now want to concentrate on football.

"I think we've had a very good preparation. There has been the same spirit and the same atmosphere as always. Of course, if you look outside that, you might think it has been an awful week but it's not like that."

Eriksson refused to talk directly about the issue Friday.

"Maybe next week we can talk other things not today though. It's been a strange week," Eriksson added. "There has been a lot of talking about other things, not how to play football and that's bad ahead of an important game as we have tomorrow."

Fowler, 26, and his former Liverpool teammate McManaman, 29, were out drinking in the early hours of Tuesday morning at a Liverpool bar called The Living Room, according to the Express and Sun newspapers.

Fowler, McManaman and Gerrard escaped the treatment handed out to midfielder Frank Lampard, who was dropped from the England squad after going on a drunken spree with Chelsea teammates the day after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Meanwhile, Manchester United's Nicky Butt on Friday was ruled out of the Greece game due to an injury. Butt was added to the squad Monday, but failed to recover from the rib injury he sustained last weekend.

Butt was not expected to start the game, but provide backup to Gerrard. That role is now likely to fall to Jamie Carragher.

No. 1 goalkeeper David Seaman pulled out Thursday with a shoulder injury and will be replaced by Nigel Martyn. The team was already without Michael Owen, Wes Brown, Sol Campbell and Alan Smith.

Eriksson said he was surprised to see England on the brink of qualification.

"Honestly, I didn't believe we'd be in this position -- and I'm very happy to be in this situation," he said.

"I said the same thing before (5-1 win over) Germany. It was nice to have the chance before that game to win the group -- and it's even better today because it depends on us."

Related information
European World Cup qualifying down to last day
Gerrard apologetic after late-night drinking spree
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