England at the mercy of proud champions

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The Independent Online


England and their supporters will approach Wembley tomorrow as much in trepidation as anticipation. The fear is that the stumbling win over Japan and the scrambled draw with Sweden will merely prove the chaos before the storm.

In the circumstances Brazil, who have shown during the Umbro Cup that they take their position as world champions very seriously indeed, would not appear to be the ideal opponents for an uncertain England. But Brazil tend to bring the best out of English players, however tired they may be after a long season. There will, for certain, be no repeat of the complacent, half-hearted display that so disappointed Wembley last Saturday.

England did play better against Sweden at Elland Road on Thursday, but their defending, normally one of their strengths under Terry Venables, was lamentable. Poor marking and bad errors were primarily responsible, but so was an inability to defend as a team.

Much of this was due to the surfeit of attacking-minded players in midfield. Peter Beardsley, while making a useful contribution going forward, lacked the discipline required of a wing-half while John Barnes, shorn of the protection given him at Liverpool, was over-run in the anchor role.

David Batty, while not fully fit, seems sure to start today but he is not really the answer. England need a Dunga or two, but the Brazilian midfielder is a rarity. Should Paul Ince go to Italy, it will be interesting to see how his game develops.

Venables was, as ever, upbeat about his team. He refuses to criticise his players in public, realising, unlike his predecessor, that to do so is to lose them. He was also right to pick out England's movement in attack, which was better than at any time this season. Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham combined well and gave plenty of options to a midfield in which Darren Anderton was again the best performer.

Gascoigne, when he came on, added a spark although, according to the Swedes, his propensity to become over-involved was again evident. When England scored their crucial second goal Sweden were down to 10 men, as Magnus Erlingmark was off the field nursing a broken nose caused by a Gascoigne elbow. Gascoigne may start today, but is more likely to be a substitute again.

Even with Gascoigne England lacked the cohesion of their opponents, who had made at least as many changes as England.Venables rebutted criticism of his selection policy by comparing the 37 players he has capped with the 44 used by Brazil since the World Cup, but this is a double-edged argument - constant changing does not seem to have affected Brazil's defensive discipline, even if it does occasionally expose some of their more adventurous forward passing.

When this match was conceived it was with the hope that England would go into it bolstered by two victories and with their first-choice side in place. Injuries and unavailability have robbed Venables of Tony Adams, Ince, Rob Jones and David Seaman, all of whom would be in his first-choice team. The replacements, so far, have not proved adequate.

At least the Umbro Cup is dispelling the high expectations Venables complains of. Thoughts of England winning the European Championship seem increasingly fanciful. Given the continued progress of such sides as Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, none of whom will be seeded, simply qualifying for the knock- out stage may be an achievement in itself.

n Tommy Svensson, the Sweden coach, is forced to make at least two changes for today's match with Japan at the City Ground, Nottingham. Svensson has lost the cutting edge of his side with both Hakan Mild and Magnus Erlingmark absent. Mild, who scored twice in the 3-3 draw with England, has flown to Switzerland as he is needed by his club, Servette, for a league game. Erlingmark will be resting after having his nose broken in a challenge with Paul Gascoigne.