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Football: Ince: England hard men may be extinct; ENGLAND v SPAIN, VILLA PARK, WEDNESDAY.

Byline: David MCDONNELL

PAUL INCE has not been losing any sleep over his omission from Sven Goran Eriksson's first England squad.

The Boro midfielder has enough on his plate dealing with his club's ongoing battle to beat the drop and stay in the Premiership.

Ince accepts that, after 56 caps and a distinguished international career, it is time to allow a new generation to take centre stage.

But the former England captain has revealed his serious concern at the lack of a genuine midfield ball-winner in the squad to face Spain at Villa Park on Wednesday.

Absence

In the absence of Ince, David Batty and Dennis Wise, only Nicky Butt of the 31-man squad can be considered an out-and-out stopper with the ability to win the ball and break down attacks.

That means England's midfield will be lacking in the steel that the likes of Ince, Batty and Wise have provided in recent years.

Ince said: "It is a big surprise to me that there is no real ball-winner in the squad. Eriksson has selected a very young midfield, but you always need someone to get stuck in, win the ball back and break up attacks.

"Players like me are probably not part of his plans now but, to be honest, I wasn't expecting anything.

"I had a great time with England, playing in World Cups and European Championships. I've been proud to play for my country. But I won't be losing any sleep over the fact that I'm not in the squad. I've got other things to concern me with Middlesbrough."

While Eriksson moved quickly to address England's long-standing problem position by selecting five left-backs, his failure to pick a midfield hard-man has raised eyebrows.

Ince's Boro boss Terry Venables echoed his captain's view and said he was surprised that the 33-year-old was not in Eriksson's squad.

Ince was the fulcrum of the England midfield under Venables and earned a reputation as one of the most formidable opponents on the international scene. Venables believes Ince still has much to offer and is puzzled that he has been left out in the cold.

"Paul is playing as well as I have seen him play," said Venables. "Even when we were losing in the FA Cup against Wimbledon, he was still driving the team on and was at the heart of the action.

"But it's not my mind that's got to be made up, it's Eriksson's. And I am not going to hassle him because it's his neck on the line."

Flourish

Any squad boasting the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Joe Cole cannot be accused of lacking skill or creativity.

But such inventiveness needs to be balanced with old-fashioned ball- winners, players to act as minders for the creative forces to be allowed to flourish.

If Eriksson decides to bring Beckham into central midfield, where he can add an extra dimension to attacks, the Manchester United star will need a ball-winner alongside him.

That anchor role in the centre is likely to be filled by Beckham's Old Trafford team-mate Butt.

CAPTION(S):

TOUGH GUYS: David Batty (left), Dennis Wise (centre) and Paul Ince
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 26, 2001
Words:525
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