WORLD CUP: England, Sweden favoured to advance

London, May 12:

England and Sweden both hope to have secured places in the second round of the World Cup by the time they face each other in the group stage. The two strongest teams in Group B have to play Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago before meeting each other, and each could get six points from those games to ensure advancement to the knockout round.

Still, their match on June 20 in Cologne could be very important, because one of the two might end up playing host Germany in the second round.

England had been expected to qualify easily for the second round, but an injury to striker Wayne Rooney has raised some doubts. The 20-year-old Manchester United forward broke his right foot in late April and could miss the entire World Cup. Rooney has had an excellent season in the English Premier League and was expected to be England’s catalyst to perhaps its first World Cup title since 1966 — the only time England has won the World .

Although England also has strong players such as David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Jamie Carragher, the absence of Rooney would weaken the team’s overall confidence, And, of course, take away one of the most promising players in the game.

Paraguay made it to the World Cup for the third time in a row and reached the second round in the last two, losing to eventual champion France in 1998 and to finalist Germany in 2002. The South Americans meet England in Frankfurt on June 10 with hopes that Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz will be fully fit. The forward returned to action in April after being sidelined for five months with torn ligaments in his right knee.

Before Rooney’s injury, Paraguay coach Anibal Ruiz might have feared another one-sided loss to England, which beat Paraguay 3-0 at the 1986 World Cup and 4-0 in a friendly four years ago.

If Paraguay can hold England to a draw, then the pressure will be on the English side when they face Trinidad in Nuremberg five days later — especially if the Swedes have beaten the Caribbean team in Dortmund on June 10.

Trinidad’s best player is Dwight Yorke, the former Aston Villa and Manchester United striker who was persuaded to come out of retirement to help the team reach its first World Cup by beating Bahrain in a playoff.

Now Yorke plays a much deeper role in midfield and, apart from experienced players such as West Ham’s Shaka Hislop, Rangers’ Marvin Andrews and Falkirk’s Russell Latapy, has several England-based players on the squad, most of them from lower-division clubs.

The Soca Warriors have little chance of making it to the second round. Sweden hopes it won’t be their first victim.

Sweden consistently has been tough to beat early in the World Cup and tied both England and Argentina at the 2002 World Cup before losing to Senegal on an extra time “golden goal.” Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who plays for Italian league leader Juventus, is one of the world’s top strikers and is joined in attack by FC Barcelona’s Henrik Larsson, who helped the Swedes capture third place at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Sweden has experience throughout the team and should have enough quality to make sure it beats both Trinidad and Paraguay. And perhaps an undermanned England.