Basketball: England's deficiencies exposed

England 60 Switzerland 73
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ENGLAND'S PATH to the 2001 European Championship finals in Turkey always looked a long one, but now it is uphill all the way after defeat by Switzerland at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, last night in probably the easiest fixture in their group.

Not surprisingly, the team played like strangers, with Andy Betts, Steve Bucknall, Delme Herriman, Yorick Williams and Ronnie Baker having missed last weekend's preparations in Portugal.

The 6ft 9in Chris Haslam and Andy Gardiner were at the heart of a bright start and a 20-10 lead, but a ponderous performance from both teams saw Switzerland's Czech-born guard Harold Mrazek edge them back to trail 31-29 at the half. Within a minute the Swiss had taken the lead, and a 17-4 burst took them way over England's horizon at 58-44 ahead, leaving the home coach, Laszlo Nemeth, needing to inspire some kind of credible response for games in Slovakia and Latvia over the next week. In February the group's two strongest teams lie in wait, Croatia and Hungary.

Being England, they were under-prepared and under-staffed, but excuses can no longer disguise the poverty of England's international aspirations.

John Amaechi's personal success in reaching the heights of the NBA with the Orlando Magic, plus an injury to Roger Huggins, cost Nemeth his two leading centres, while the first- choice playmakers, Steve Hansell and Ray Carter, are injured.

All four could have been in last night's starting five alongside Bucknall, but instead Silas Cheung earned his place in the back court after outstanding performances in Portugal last weekend.