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SVEN GORAN-ERIKSSON

When Sweden's Sven-Goran Eriksson took over as England head coach, the situation was desperate. England had begun the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign disastrously. But the Eriksson effect was immediate. The historic 5-1 thrashing of Germany in Munich in September gave the Scandinavian messiah status, maintained when England qualified automatically in first place.

The English Football Association's decision to appoint Eriksson as England's coach in January 2001 was dangerous. Never before had a foreign manager taken over at the helm of the national team with the patriotic English press needing only the slightest poor performance to pull out the long knives.

But Eriksson has been so successful that press and public alike have taken him and his Swedish No 2 Tord Grip to their hearts.

Such affection is nothing new for Eriksson. His stint in Italy between 1984 and 2001, save for a two-year return spell at Benfica, was characterised by the way the notoriously closed Italian coaching hierarchy adopted him as one of their own. During spells at Roma, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and ultimately Lazio, he was groomed in the tactics of Serie A and was nicknamed the "Iceman" for his ability to handle pressure situations.

Italian style has also rubbed off on his social life where his intellectual facade is now accompanied by a keen dress sense, love for the opera and an Italian partner.

Although Eriksson has never coached Sweden, he is by far its most successful manager. It all began in 1975 at his old club, Degerfors. Within seven years he had clinched the Swedish Championship and UEFA Cup Winners Cup with IFK Gothenburg. He then guided Benfica to two Portuguese championships in 1983 and 1984.

The Eternal city beckoned next and Eriksson led Roma to the Italian Cup in 1986. After a trophy-less stint at Fiorentina, he returned to Benfica in 1989, claiming the Portuguese League Championship in 1991 before returning to Italy and winning the Italian Cup with Sampdoria in 1994.

Eriksson took over at Lazio in 1997, winning the Italian Cup (1998), Italian Super Cup (1998), UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1999), UEFA Super Cup (1999) and, sweetest of all, the Italian League championship in 2000.

England's chances in the World Cup will rest largely on the shoulders of their coach. The Swede's vast experience of international styles, tactics and players will be invaluable for a country that is often considered one-dimensional and inflexible during big tournaments.

The coach's cool exterior and quiet confidence will prove just as important in the media-heavy atmosphere of a world cup. If England's players can unite their own abilities with the skills of their coach, then that 1-5 result against Germany in the qualifiers may not be as freakish as it seems.