Football: Martyn shines as England stumble

England 0 Belgium 0 (Belgium win 4-3 on penalties)
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The Independent Online
THE most notable feature in Casablanca is not a replica Rick's Bar but the pounds 320m Hassan II Mosque. It has room for 80,000 worshippers which means it's almost big enough to hold all of the players Glenn Hoddle has used in attempting to find his World Cup XI.

Last night Hoddle, who is either indecisive, generous or thorough, depending on your point of view, handed out another 15 caps taking the number of players used in just the last week to 27.

He also anointed two more captains: Sol Campbell, who became England's youngest skipper since Bobby Moore three decades ago, and Les Ferdinand who took over after Campbell departed prematurely with a dead leg.

It was Ferdinand, somewhat inevitably, who promptly missed the critical penalty in the shoot out which followed last night's desultory goalless draw. With Rob Lee also failing, Nigel Martyn's save from Enzo Scifo's spot kick became immaterial.

It was important to Martyn however as it capped an excellent performance from the Leeds United goalkeeper which almost certainly clinched his place in the World Cup 22 to be named on Monday. In an otherwise unimpressive team performance there were few other clues as to the composition of Hoddle's squad and even less encouragement for their prospects in France next month.

Their best feature of the night, apart from Martyn's display, was the avoidance of further serious injury to any of the England players.

Paul Gascoigne also suffered a dead leg and Andy Hinchcliffe missed the match with a muscle strain but none of these injuries are thought serious and Hoddle should be able to pick from his full 27-man party on Monday.

The worst aspect was the lack of creativity either playing 4-4-2, as England did in the first half, or 3-5-2. England had just three shots at goal, all around the hour mark, and each came from poor headed Belgian clearances.

"I was very disappointed with the passing in the first half," Hoddle said. "It confirmed to me that we are better with the ball when we have three at the back and can stretch the play.

"I've a couple of days now to consider what I've seen. It's thinking time, I've got to make sure every angle is covered,"

At least England turned up. At one stage it was feared a strike by Spanish air traffic controlmight keep England in their Spanish base at La Manga.

In the event they arrived in time for Campbell to become Hoddle's fifth captain in 20 matches. He started brightly with a good interception but was soon affected by injury and the general malaise in an England defence which looked vulnerable against the electric pace of Emile Mpenza.

After just seven minutes the teenager broke down the right and, after Michael Goosens had flicked the ball on, Martyn was grateful that Danny Boffin could only manage a weak shot. Martyn then stopped Goosens and Mpenza before Campbell mis-judged Boffin's 20th-minute through ball to give Mpenza a run on goal. Martyn stood up well to save both of them.

By now England had settled to the extent that there was some nice passing with Gascoigne, Rob Lee and Gary Neville linking well on the right, but with the Belgian offside trap moving slickly and England crossing poorly Ferdinand and Paul Merson were starved of opportunity.

At half-time Hoddle took off both Nevilles, putting Rio Ferdinand in as sweeper and bringing in Michael Owen to partner Les Ferdinand with Merson in a more withdrawn role. There was no immediate impact as both Mpenzas, Mbo having come on to partner his younger brother, went close in the early minutes.

Then England burst into brief life. First Le Saux brought a fine save from Philippe van der Walle with a rising drive, then Merson twice went close from half-cleared corners. England's control was short-lived as Scifo's passing took over. He set up a chance for Emile Mpenza which the youngster squandered then brought a stunning save from Martyn with a 25- yard shot.

Campbell's departure gave Dion Dublin the chance to show what he can do as an international defender. He showed his strength and experience to old off Emile Mpenza in one chase but, with Rio Ferdinand, was at fault when Scifo was able to set up the youngster's late chance.

The penalties followed and while Michael Owen, David Beckham and Merson all scored England again failed to survive the ordeal. They will hope it is not a harbinger of yet another traumatic spot kick experience this summer.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Martyn (Leeds); GNeville (Man Utd) Keown (Arsenal) Campbell (Tottenham) P Neville (Man Utd); Lee (Newcastle) Gascoigne (Middlesbrough) Butt (Man Utd) Le Saux (Chelsea); Merson (Middlesbrough) L Ferdinand (Tottenham). Substitutes: R Ferdinand (West Ham) and Owen (Liverpool) on for both Nevilles h/t; Beckham (Man Utd) for Gascoigne 50.

BELGUIM (2-3-3-2): Van der Walle (Eentract Aalst); Van Meir (Lierse), Verstraeten (Germinal Ekeren); Deflandre (Club Bruges), De Boeck (Anderlecht), Borkelmans (Club Bruges); Verhayen (Club Bruges), Scifo (Anderlecht), Boffin (Metz); Goossens (Schalke 04), E Mpenza (Standard Liege). Substitutes: M Mpenza (Standard Liege) for Goosens h/t; Claessens (Club Burges) for Verhayen (62 mins).

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