Manger Sven-Goran Eriksson
The story of England's qualification was largely the story of new manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. When Kevin Keegan resigned after a 1-0 Wembley defeat against Germany, and then England struggled to a draw in Finland, hopes of qualifying were hanging by a thread. After Eriksson was appointed however, England improved radically and strung together a series of crucial wins. The defining match then came on September 1st 2001, in Munichís Olympic Stadium. On one of the great footballing nights England blitzed Germany, thrashing the home side 5-1, with Michael Owen grabbing a hat-trick. A routine win against Albania followed, before the climax of the qualifying campaign against Greece at Old Trafford. Twice the visitors punished a tepid performance from Erikssonís men, and were 2-1 up, before a stunning free-kick from David Beckham in the final seconds took England to the finals.
Englandís record in World Cup finals is mixed. Their finest hour came on a summerís day in July back in 1966, with the images of Englandís 4-2 win over West Germany imprinted on the nationís psyche. Before and since there have been mainly disappointments. Heart-breaking exits in the quarter-finals of the 1970 and 1986 finals came Englandís way, but sandwiched between these were non-appearances in the finals of 1974 and 1978, and an early exit in Spain in 1982. Englandís best chance of emulating their 1966 triumph came 12 years ago in Italy, when a mixture of luck and inspiration took Bobby Robsonís men to the semi-finals. Old foes Germany knocked England out on penalties however, and four years later in America Graham Taylor couldnít take England to the party. The 1998 finals in France promised good things for England under Glenn Hoddle, but a careless defeat against Romania in the group stages meant they finished only second, and were forced to play Argentina in the second round. England were left devastated after a rollercoaster night of great emotion, beaten on penalties again and exiting at the last sixteen stage.
|STAR PLAYER - DAVID BECKHAM|
|David Beckham (Action Images)|
David Beckham is Englandís major lynchpin as they head to the Far East looking for glory. While his form has been patchy for Manchester United he remains a giant internationally and his performances in qualifying were often magnificent. A free-kick against Greece in Athens, towering performance against the Germans in Munich and sparkling one-man show against the Greeks at Old Trafford will all remain long in the memory. Most of Englandís attacking options come through Beckham, and if he is on top form Sven-Goran Erikssonís men will have a chance of tasting glory in Japan and Korea. Of the other players, Michael Owen is likely to be the most significant, with the Liverpool striker capable of frightening every defence in the world when on song.