Eriksson gambles with WC squad

London , May 9:

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was expected to take a big gamble when he named his World Cup squad. But this was nothing to do with Wayne Rooney and his broken foot. The Swede has decided to take teenage rookie Theo Walcott, who has yet to make a Premier League appearance for his Arsenal club. Walcott made his first international squad on Monday, a month after turning 17. Eriksson selected him on the basis of videos, the opinion of his assistant, and talks with Gunners manager Arsene Wenger.

“Maybe it is my biggest, bravest, boldest gamble,” Eriksson said. “If you take a 17-year-old boy to the World Cup of course you cannot be sure. “The feeling is that he is ready for it. I don’t think he will be nervous or feel the pressure.”

Rooney and Michael Owen were also named, along with several others who’ve barely kicked a ball in the last few months. Manchester United striker Rooney broke a bone in his foot against Chelsea 10 days ago and is doubtful for England’s three group matches. Owen has struggled to recover from a toe he broke on December 31.

With Rooney out, Owen doubtful and Walcott untested, England’s attack could be led by Liverpool’s 6-foot-7 Peter Crouch. The oft-maligned Crouch has five caps — all in friendlies — and has started only twice for England. Eriksson overlooked Charlton’s Darren Bent, who scored 18 goals in the Premier League this season - the most of any Englishman.

Former England manager Bobby Robson wasn’t convinced by Eriksson’s squad.

“The squad worries me because he is relying on Owen and Rooney — our two best strikers of course — to be fit,” Robson said. “There’s no guarantee that either will make it. We could be seriously depleted.”

Walcott joined Arsenal in January from Football League Championship club Southampton when he was still 16. “He’s still in shock,” Walcott’s agent Colin Gordon said of the player’s reaction. The speedy Walcott has the chance to break Rooney’s record as England’s youngest-ever international. Rooney was 17 years, 111 days, when he went on as a substitute in a 3-1 friendly defeat to Australia in February 2003. If Walcott plays against Hungary in a World Cup warmup on May 30, he’ll be 17 years, 75 days.

England’s World Cup opener against Paraguay will be 11 days later. Both Owen and Walcott are expected to play in England’s last three tuneups before going to Germany — Belarus (May 26), Hungary (May 30) and Jamaica (June 3).

Another uncapped player was Tottenham’s 19-year-old winger Aaron Lennon, who made a big impact for Spurs this season and was chosen ahead of Chelsea’s Shaun-Wright Phillips. “From what I have seen of him over the past couple of months is Lennon flying,” Eriksson said. “He has pace, he beats people, he gets crosses in and he is in good shape, which is important.”

Defenders Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole were also named in the squad despite not being fully fit.

Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe was also left out of the squad but is among five backup players, along with Scott Carson, Luke Young, Nigel Reo-Coker and Andy Johnson. Eriksson has to name his final 23-member squad by May 15.