England on the defensive | World Soccer

Despite qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals by virtue of their 1-0 win over Austria on Saturday, England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and acting captain Michael Owen have been forced to respond to heavy criticism about their chances in Germany.

England’s victory combined with the Czech Republic’s defeat to Holland meant that England qualify automatically for next year’s finals.

However, the insipid nature of their performance has produced a barrage of criticism among Eriksson’s domestic critics.

But Eriksson responded: “At least 10 of my players are world class. They would be on a world top-50 list.”

“We have an extremely good team,” the England boss told BBC Radio Five Live.

“I am extremely confident England will have a very good World Cup.

“We are one of four or five teams who can win the World Cup. If we are lucky with injuries I think we can do it.”

Owen added: “We’ll go there with a squad that, apart from Brazil, I’m sure is not bettered.”

Owen, who took the captain’s armband after David Beckham had been sent off on Saturday, is optimistic about England’s prospects for next summer’s tournament.

“I would not settle for getting knocked out in the last four,” added Owen.

“The aim is certainly to get as far as the semi-finals – but it would not stop there.”

With Beckham suspended for the final qualifier against Poland on Wednesday, Owen will captain the team.

“It is a magical feeling to lead out your country – and even more of an honour when you see how easy it would be for the manager to give the armband to the likes of John Terry or Steven Gerrard,” Owen told The Times.

“I am sure some people will say John or Steve are more obvious skippers but I like to think that I have people’s respect.”

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