Brazilian discovery highlights English failings

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The Independent Online
Casting a practised eye over proceedings an hour before England played Japan at Wembley on Saturday, a veteran steward said: "I've never known the place so quiet. They used to get more here for the Varsity match."

Confounding confident on-site assessments, the official attendance of 21,000 didn't fall below the lowest for a football match at the ancient, bedraggled north London arena.

But together with a turnout of similar proportions at Villa Park yesterday, despite the alluring presence of the world champions, Brazil, it raised a question. It is whether a glut of football in an interminable season could eventually lead to disenchantment.

Doubtless there will be a better turnout when England play Sweden at Elland Road on Thursday and for Brazil's appearance at Wembley next Sunday. However, all the evidence suggests, unsurprisingly, that the Umbro Cup is stretching the enthusiasm of English supporters.

Even the idea of providing Terry Venables with an opportunity to lick the England team into some sort of shape loses substance when the play is as tedious as it often was on Saturday.

International matches of no immediate importance have little appeal for an audience besotted with club football, especially when it is obvious that the coaches are conducting experiments.

Despite statements to the contrary, the experiments Venables conducted against Japan, who were not expected to offer such stout resistance, must have left him disappointed with the lack of progress in some of his younger players.

While England remain unbeaten under his stewardship, they are still considerably short of achieving the collective authority and inspiration they will need to make an impact in next summer's European Championship.

From personal experience in their country, Gary Lineker forecast confidently that Japan's defenders were not up to coping with powerful attackers, but they sensibly applied a sweeper system with man-to-man marking which proved baffling for Alan Shearer and Stan Collymore.

Collymore, with an inflated transfer value of around pounds 7m and having spent the past week complaining that he isn't appreciated by the Nottingham Forest manager, Frank Clark, was particularly disappointing. Why is it that British footballers look so naive when confronted with unfamiliar problems?

Here lies the answer to recent disappointments in European competition and the problem that Venables will find most difficult to overcome.

Even if Brazil turned out in blue rather than the famous colours that never fail to arouse a flicker of excitement, they were still able to remind us that football isn't entirely about pace, which so dominates the game in this country.

Their success in last summer's World Cup was as much about pragmatism as romance and in the process of rebuilding and preparing for the South American Cup next month they were not short of either quality.

In Juninho, a 22-year-old from the Sao Paulo club they have a player with the ability to make a considerable impact. His waif-like appearance (he bares a resemblance to the former Arsenal and England inside- forward George Eastham) conceals a tenacious spirit.

Some of his feints were a joy and no English midfielder possesses his appreciation of space and the ability to time a penetrating pass. He at least justifies the promotional blurb for this tournament - there is no substitute for being there.