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Keegan answers Portuguese jibe

England coach Kevin Keegan intends to use the damning analysis of his side by Portuguese winger Sergio Conceicao as extra motivation before the opening Euro 2000 clash on Monday.

Conceicao told Portuguese television that England are fragile in certain areas, particularly goalkeeping. He said: "We have two advantages over England. We are more creative and we are better man for man. We also will be trying to take advantage of their weaknesses, like goalkeeping."

Although he has asked for a video of the Lazio star’s comments, Keegan refused to be drawn into a dispute with Portugal just days before the countries meet in their opening Euro 2000 match on June 12, but has said that he will use the comments as a motivational tool.

"At this time of the competition they’re looking at things from a purely Portuguese point of view, and are entitled to say what they want," he said.

"I wouldn’t tell you the weaknesses of other teams, and these sort of things can be used to build up spirit and team-togetherness. I don’t want to get too carried away by this: David Seaman has not even mentioned it."

Keegan also confirmed that he had spoken to British Home Secretary Jack Straw about the possibility of English fans being involved in hooliganism during the tournament.

"I have had a conversation with Mr Straw, and we are of the same opinion. I want nothing to interfere with the preparation of the team.

"I want to recreate the spirit of Euro 96, both on and off the pitch. If we can produce performances like that against Holland I’d be pleased, and if the fans can produce the carnival atmosphere of 1996, that would show the best side of English football."

The England boss said that he felt preparations for the tournament were going well. "What we’ve worked hard to do is to create Club England. We had to get England acting like a club, and that’s something that can’t be manufactured overnight. I feel that now we’ve achieved that.

"What we have to do now is to transfer what we’ve seen on the training pitch into the tournament, and if we can do that, we’ll take some stopping."

England’s only slight injury worry concerns Gary Neville, who has a blistered foot.

Keegan dismissed criticism about the team’s disappointing performance against Malta last Saturday. "We mustn’t read too much into that game. I was speaking to Nobby Stiles, and he said exactly the same thing happened in 1966."

The England manager was also keen to deflect speculation about Alan Shearer’s place in the team. "If Alan Shearer is fit, he will play and captain the side," he confirmed.

"People should get behind the team and that includes Alan Shearer. If one player will not be affected by this criticism, it’s Alan Shearer. He went through the same 12 months ago, and before Euro 96, and he went on to be top scorer in 1996.

"He enjoys the chance to prove these people wrong. I faced the same questions when I first became manger, and I gave the same answers.

"People who are asking this are not on the same wavelength as me."
 
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