Wales 0 England 1

Sven-Goran Eriksson signalled the return of Michael Owen against Northern Ireland but even he was left admitting England must improve significantly on their uncertain display against Wales if they are to win the World Cup.

And if Eriksson admits that much in public, it is no wonder Owen was given few worries about his place in the side despite victory in Cardiff.

Shaun Wright- Phillips made an encouraging impact early in the second half but only after he had been told to stick to the right wing, from where he crossed for Joe Cole's deflected winner.

While Cole's fitness must be assessed before Eriksson can finalise his line-up for Wednesday after the Chelsea midfielder suffered a slight calf strain, it will be Wright-Phillips who otherwise makes way for Owen on his return from suspension.

Eriksson revealed: "Michael Owen normally always brings goals in difficult games and defenders always have a lot of respect for him.

"I think he will play against Northern Ireland, although he hasn't played much football this season, so we will have to see on Monday and Tuesday in practice."

Eriksson could persist with his 4-5-1 formation against the Irish, although there seems little point in making Owen his latest square peg in a round hole.

For although David Beckham gave an impressively disciplined display as the holding midfielder, showing off his range of passing skills, England were otherwise lost in something of a tactical fog by the final whistle in Cardiff.

By then, Rooney had played in all three forward positions, none of which seem to suit his natural game as much as playing in behind Owen.

If England are to have a chance of winning the World Cup, this team should be built around Rooney, rather than asking him to mould himself to a set pattern.

Eriksson observed: "Of course, we can play 4-4-2 with Rooney as second striker. We can play a diamond with Rooney at the top or we can play as we did against Wales, with Rooney to the right or the left. It doesn't matter to him. Last season, he played to the left a lot, this season he plays to the right with Manchester United." The difference is that United have built their team around protecting Roy Keane and playing to Ruud van Nistelrooy's strengths. England do not have that luxury.

So it should be back to 4-4-2 against the Irish and beyond, albeit with Eriksson required to sort out the confusion in midfield between Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and David Beckham.

All three are automatic choices but they can at times be too similar and, unless Gerrard can be transformed into a holding midfielder with Beckham ordered to stay out wide, Joe Cole may yet have to be sacrificed for Michael Carrick or Owen Hargreaves.

As Eriksson acknowledged: "The organisation doesn't matter as much but if we want to win the World Cup next summer, we will have to play better.

"But we have won six games and drawn one in the group, so I'm extremely happy with that. I'm also happy with the attitude and the willingness to battle."

England at least improved on their debacle in Denmark, although it was not until the 21st minute they really threatened in Cardiff, when Gerrard and Rooney exchanged passes only for the striker's shot to be saved by Danny Coyne.

Thereafter, although England dominated possession, it was Wales who caught them on the break, with Ryan Giggs delivering one inviting cross for John Hartson to head powerfully towards the corner.

Only a superb save by Paul Robinson kept England level and underlined why he is now the undisputed firstchoice goalkeeper.

"He was very close and it was a bullet header, but I saw it pretty quickly and just had to get down to it. It's a reaction thing, really," observed Robinson.

Joe Cole wasted a clear header from Beckham's pinpoint cross before half-time but made amends after the restart when he converted Wright-Phillips' pass from Beckham's excellent crossfield ball, albeit via a deflection off defender Danny Gabbidon.

Cole admitted: "I had a fantastic chance with the header. All my mates had put money on me for the first goal at 12-1 and all I could think was how I was going to have to shell out their winnings to them if I hadn't scored!"

Otherwise, Cole was a restrained figure, admitting he felt strangely "lethargic", while Lampard is still searching for his best form and Gerrard was short of matchsharpness after injury.

Beckham at least kept his side together, although he was never seriously tested out defensively, as he would be against better opponents.

"I enjoyed the role. I'm on the ball a lot of the time and I'm always free. It gave me the chance to pick players but I'll play where I'm told as it's all about playing for England," he insisted.

Then again, with the match having ended in some tactical confusion with England rather hanging on, Eriksson again appeared to have created a measure of chaos from relative order with his substitutions.

An important victory was still achieved, but the nagging doubts remain. England have the players to win the World Cup, but do they yet have the tactics?