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Eriksson lauds England but plays down Euro 2004 chances

© Reuters 2002

LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Sven-Goran Eriksson believes England are one of the strongest teams in international football but the Swede refuses to predict glory at the 2004 European championship.

"We have to improve but we don't have to improve that much to be right up there at the top," Eriksson told reporters. "But other countries in Europe will be thinking about (winning Euro 2004).

"There are six or seven who could win the tournament and we can be one of them. However, to say we will win when you're talking about this competition is very big words."

Portugal, the hosts, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey were England's rivals for the 2004 title, Eriksson said. The Swede experienced serious public and media criticism for the first time after England lost 2-1 to Brazil in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup" in June.

Critics are now looking for improvements as they prepare for their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign, which begins with matches against Slovakia in Bratislava on Saturday and at home to Macedonia on October 16.

Eriksson is also drilling home the same message to his talented group of players.

"We had a young team at the World Cup and we lost to the team that won the tournament," he said at England's training base just outside London.

"On paper we have a very good squad, although in football you never know.

"But because of the ages (of the players), in two years' time we should be better."

Eriksson has been reminded that his two predecessors in the job, Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle, resigned or were forced out in the middle of qualifying campaigns.

England supporters expect England to secure six points from their opening two games and Eriksson is aware of the potential backlash should they slip up.

But he said: "I'm not thinking about what happened in the past.

"I just try to think about preparing the best team for Slovakia. I don't think about others.

"In football, as in life, you never know. But (this job) is much easier for me (than when he took over from Keegan two years ago). "I know the players, we have worked together, and I have a much better opinion today than before.

"I am looking forward to having a competitive game again." England also face Turkey and Liechtenstein in qualifying group seven.

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