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Eriksson wary of Macedonia threat

© Reuters 2002

SOUTHAMPTON, England, Oct 16 (Reuters) - England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson reckons his side could be in for a tough time in their Euro 2004 qualifier against unsung Macedonia.

Though England go in to the Group Seven game as runaway favourites, Eriksson is wary of a Macedonia side he said outplayed FIFA World Cup" semi-finalists Turkey at times last weekend.

Macedonia went down 2-1 at home on Saturday but Eriksson's two scouts at the game, and his own conclusions after watching a tape, was that Macedonia might easily have run out winners.

"Macedonia could have scored three goals in the first half and they were better than Turkey, no doubt about that," Eriksson told reporters as he prepared for Wednesday's game at St Mary's stadium.

"I think Turkey were lucky to score the second goal." Impressed with the Macedonians' game, he said: "They played good football, good counter-attacks and physically they're a strong team.

"They have a number 10 (Artem Shaqiri) who's a very good player. He's good at free-kicks, corners and he's good one-on-one."

England have often struggled against lesser teams, having had to battle in the mud for Saturday's 2-1 comeback victory over Slovakia and qualify for the FIFA World Cup" with a last-minute 2-2 draw with Greece after struggling to beat Albania 2-0.

However, if things do not go according to plan at St Mary's, Eriksson knows he can count on the team spirit which took England all the way to the FIFA World Cup" quarter-finals and brought them safely through on Saturday.

Much of Eriksson's success since taking effective charge in February 2001 has been down to his ability to make players believe in both themselves and their team mates.

Playing down his role in achieving that, Eriksson said: "To have good spirit, good morale in a team doesn't just depend on the manager.

"It depends on the kit men, the masseurs, the doctors, the coaches and the players having common sense, using their heads and showing respect for all in the group.

"We have that in this squad. We had it all through the FIFA World Cup". I felt it when we played against Portugal (in last month's 1-1 friendly draw) and I felt it even more when we played the scond half in Slovakia.

"It was nice to see how pleased all the players were after the match and not just those coming from the pitch - but also from the bench and from the stand. That's good spirit. (But) you can destroy it in seconds."

England's game against Macedonia is their last this year before qualifying re-starts next March with an away game against Liechtenstein.

England are planning a friendly in mid-February.

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