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Englands sports fans prefer cricket to football

Published: Thursday, September 8, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
 
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London:Frenzied excitement ahead of England's final cricket Test match against Australia offered some distraction from a crushing defeat suffered by the nation's footballers against Northern Ireland.

The 1-0 disaster for England in Belfast on Wednesday prompted loud calls for Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to resign.

Most newspapers -- packed with comment about the Ashes -- had already rolled their first editions off the press when the final whistle blew on the World Cup qualifier, which heralded Northern Ireland's first victory over England since 1972.

Despite the lack of time, some dailies squeezed out a few scathing headlines on the game.

"Sack the Swede," declared the middle market Daily Mail across its back page. "Fans call for Eriksson's head as his pathetic rabble hit new low."

The newspaper pictured the England manager on its front page looking worried, next to the words: "Now Sven can't even defeat Northern Ireland!"

The Daily Express tabloid summed up the country's feelings after the match.

"Humiliation," it said, above a picture of England defender Rio Ferdinand with his hands on his head in a look of despair.

"Sven's shambles as woeful England are humbled in Belfast," it said.

A photograph of captain David Beckham, with an anguished look on his face, covered the back page of another tabloid, The Daily Mirror, accompanied by the message: "Lost the plot. Fans call for Sven sacking after England humiliation."

The Guardian broadsheet offered a less sensational report on England's woeful performance, but also piled pressure on Eriksson.

"Sven-Goran Eriksson's record will forever be stained by this result and England's plans for qualification are just as tarnished," it said.

The Swedish manager had gone without defeat in 21 previous qualifiers.

England now trail the group leaders Poland by five points and must win their two remaining qualifiers against Austria and Poland next month if they are to guarantee World Cup qualification as group six winners.

The blow to national pride was slightly softened, however, by mounting excitement ahead of the final Test for England's cricketers in the five-match Ashes series against Australia.

"Come urn England!" shouted The Daily Mirror across its front page, referring to the treasured Ashes urn that the team is battling to win off Australia for the first time since 1989.

In a further dig at Eriksson, the newspaper pictured him with the word "zero" written on his head next to a photograph of England's favourite cricketer Andrew Flintoff accompanied with the word "hero".

All dailies were filled with comment on the five-day contest, including a fool's guide to understanding cricket, interviews with players' wives and girlfriends, comments on bets taken about the outcome and articles on the extortionate price that tickets to the sold-out match are fetching.

England need only to avoid defeat at The Oval in London to claim the Ashes following four epic matches that have reignited the country's passion for the centuries-old game.

The Sun tabloid pictured dynamic all-rounder Flintoff across its front page looking godly draped in an England flag, clutching his bat and the Ashes urn.

"I promise all Sun readers that every drop of sweat we have in our bodies will be left at The Oval. We will give everything we have and more to win back the Ashes," he was quoted as saying.

Flintoff's stunning wife Rachael, 27, also made a splash, with pictures of her in a short skirt and lacy top, wishing the team well, featuring in most of the newspapers.

The nation is set to switch on television sets and radios or click onto the Internet at 10:30 am (0930 GMT) when the action is due to start.

In a nutshell, The Daily Telegraph said: "After 47 sessions, 5,334 minutes, 4,693 runs, 7,306 balls and 152 wickets, watched by a TV audience of 100 million, ONE MATCH will decide who wins a four-inch (10-centimetre) trophy."

After the first four Tests England are ahead 2-1 with one game drawn. If Australia manage to level the series at the Oval they will retain the Ashes.

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