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England's Eriksson happy to have youth on his side

© Reuters 2002

LONDON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson will not be unduly concerned if he ends up having the youngest squad at the World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan which start in May.

"Having the youngest squad at the World Cup wouldn't bother me," Eriksson said on the English Football Association (FA) website on Sunday after blooding youngsters Darius Vassell, Wayne Bridge and Michael Ricketts in last Wednesday's friendly against the Netherlands.

"In one way, it's very good for the future and very interesting. It may be difficult to win the World Cup with a young squad, though. "I have seen statistics which say that most winners of the World Cup have an average age of about 28. That's good for 2006, then."

Talent, not experience, will be the most important factor governing his selection of the squad, Eriksson said. "When you go to the World Cup and you have two players you consider equal then maybe in such a young squad, you will choose one older one to have experience.

"But if the younger one is better than the older one, then you must pick the younger one," Eriksson said. Tottenham Hotspur's Ledley King is another young player who Eriksson may consider for the friendly against Italy in March, along with some members of the Leeds United squad.

Leeds pair Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate and Chelsea's John Terry have been criticised for their actions off the pitch but could be considered for England duty.

After a much-publicised court case last year, Bowyer was cleared of all charges relating to the injuries inflicted on an Asian student while Woodgate is currently completing the community service imposed for being found guilty of affray.

Bowyer is currently serving a six-match ban after being found guilty of violent conduct and abusive language in two separate incidents in a match at Arsenal in August.

Midfielder Bowyer and defender Woodgate were barred from England duty when both were charged with grievous bodily harm and affray following an attack on a student in Leeds city centre in January 2000.

England under-21 defender Terry is currently on bail awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to charges of assault and affray over an alleged nightclub brawl in central London last month. Bowyer will have completed his six-match ban and Woodgate will have finished his community service in time to be selected for the Italy friendly.

When asked about the chances of Bowyer, Woodgate and Terry representing their country at the World Cup, Eriksson did not rule it out.

"It's a decision that the FA and I have to take before the next game on Bowyer, Woodgate and Terry," Eriksson said in the Independent on Sunday newspaper.

"It's very difficult to say what's right and what's wrong. We will be criticised whatever decision we take." Eriksson added that he could already name about 18 of the 23 players he will take to the World Cup, but was open to others forcing their way in.

"If I should pick the squad tomorrow, then I know 18 or 19 names, but hopefully I'll change my mind by mid-May," Eriksson said.

He said he was happy with the lessons learned during England's 1-1 draw with the Netherlands on Wednesday, and with the way the team adapted to playing a 4-3-3 formation as opposed to 4-4-2. "It was important for me to try it as I didn't want to go to the World Cup and just have 4-4-2. In some games, we will need three central midfielders and now we know we can do it."

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