My England side was better, but Southgate's squad is stronger – Eriksson

By Sports Desk June 12, 2020

Sven-Goran Eriksson believes his England starting XI was stronger than the current generation, but feels Gareth Southgate's overall squad is more impressive.

Eriksson became the first non-British manager to be appointed England boss when he left Lazio to take over in 2001, turning around their qualification campaign for the 2002 World Cup and securing a spot at the tournament in Japan and South Korea.

With the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Michael Owen, the Three Lions were fancied to make an impact.

But they were beaten by eventual champions Brazil in the last eight. Two years later they fell at the same hurdle in Euro 2004 to Portugal, who also sent England packing in Eriksson's final tournament in charge – the 2006 World Cup.

One of the main legacies of Eriksson's time in charge was a perceived inability to get the best out of England's so-called 'golden generation', but he thinks Southgate has more options at his disposal.

When asked if he feels the current England team was better than his, Eriksson told Stats Perform News: "Maybe not, but they have more choices today than we had.

"Number 20, number 21, the quality went down a bit. It's easier today, there are many hugely talented football players.

"They did well at the last World Cup, they will be even better in the next Euros. It's a new generation. They are young, they are good.

"They have a lot of quality all over. It looks like a very hungry team. They have a lot of pace and that's important.

"If you defend well, then you will be very strong in counterattacks and then, you have a born goalscorer [Harry Kane], and you need that man who can score [many] goals in a major tournament."

Recently, Eriksson was criticised by Ferdinand for apparently urging the former Manchester United centre-back to not play out from the back – but the Swede insists that was not the case.

"He was one of the best central defenders in the world, maybe the best, and as he rightly said, he could play," Eriksson added. "He was a very modern central defender. Football was different then.

"Everybody wants to play like Barcelona, but not everybody should. Not everyone can play like Ferdinand. But that back four was very, very strong.

"I always in all my career was very keen not to lose the ball when we have it in our own half of the pitch: you give opportunities to your opponents to create.

"If you're going to lose it, then do so up front, but if we could play in a secure way from behind, then do it, if not then don't make life difficult for us. But I never ever said don't play from the back."

Euro 2020 was due to start on Friday, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it was postponed for 12 months in March.

England will face Croatia, Czech Republic and as yet undetermined third team, who will be decided by the qualification play-off, when the tournament takes place from June 11, 2021.

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    He starred in the number 10 for Napoli and Argentina during his playing career, and the shirt was retired by the Serie A club in his honour in 2000.

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    "For Maradona, it's a hard blow. I would like FIFA to withdraw the number 10 for all competitions, all teams," he told a news conference after Marseille's 2-0 Champions League loss to Porto on Wednesday.

    "I think it's the best tribute that can be given to the greatest player in the history of football. It is an incredible loss for the world of football."

    Villas-Boas said he would always remember his one meeting with Maradona.

    "Yes, I met him once. He was a guest at the Pinetina, the Inter Milan sports centre, when I was there," he said.

    "And I remember this photo, next to my trophies in Porto. Because of that, I bought a watch when Hublot had them signed by Maradona. And this watch came with a jersey signed by him that I still keep. These are good memories.

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    "It's a loss for everyone. I only met him once, next to each other, it's a moment I won't forget."

    Maradona, the captain and inspiration behind Argentina's World Cup success in 1986 before going on to coach his country at the 2010 showpiece, had been hospitalised just days after turning 60.

    He appeared in a fragile state when he briefly made an appearance as his Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata side played a match on the evening of his birthday last month.

    Maradona won 91 caps for Argentina between 1977 and 1994, scoring 34 goals at international level.

    He started his career with Argentinos Juniors before joining Boca Juniors and went on to play for Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys before returning to Boca in 1995.

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    Playmaker Maradona also lifted the UEFA Cup with Napoli in 1989 and he won three trophies during his time at Barca – including the Copa del Rey in 1983.

    Maradona also had stints in charge of Textil Mandiyu, Racing Club, Al-Wasl, Fujairah and Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico before being appointed by Gimnasia last year.

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    Argentina v England (June 22, 1986)

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    Argentina v Belgium (June 25, 1986)

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    Napoli v Juventus (November 3, 1985)

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    Napoli v Hellas Verona (October 20, 1985)

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    Boca Juniors v River Plate (April 10, 1981)

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    The Argentina great died on Wednesday at the age of 60 following a cardiac arrest and, while opinions on his legacy may differ depending on where you live, his remarkable impression on the game is undoubted.

    The abiding image of Maradona for most likely stems from the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England.

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    "He did things that I have never seen anyone else do," Cornejo, who died in 2008, later said of Maradona.

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    One hundred and sixteen goals in 166 games for Argentinos followed and resulted in Maradona receiving a dream move to Boca Juniors, though his spell at La Bombonera yielded only one league title and was marked by a difficult relationship with coach Silvio Marzolini before he moved to Barcelona in a world-record transfer in 1982.

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    "He had complete mastery of the ball," former team-mate Lobo Carrasco remarked. "When Maradona ran with the ball or dribbled through the defence, he seemed to have the ball tied to his boots."

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    It was perhaps no surprise that the pinnacle of his international career coincided with that of his club career at Napoli, for whom Maradona will forever be an icon.

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    Napoli's Stadio San Paolo was the scene of glory for Argentina in a World Cup semi-final win over Italy, in which Maradona scored the ultimately decisive penalty in the shoot-out, though he could not ensure a successful title defence as West Germany prevailed in the final.

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    His story was undeniably unforgettable and it is telling that, despite Lionel Messi's otherworldly exploits, it is Maradona who stands as the symbol of Argentinian football for so many.

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