England fail to impress

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Golden XI 0 England XI 1

England yesterday ensured they will not go into the European Championship weighed down by the burden of expectation but they gained little else from a leaden performance at the Hong Kong Stadium.

Facing a local club side stiffened by a few seasoned "guests", England put up the worst performance of Terry Venables' two-year reign. Back in the UK television watchers must have been choking on their cornflakes.

England were, quite simply, awful. The passing was sloppy, the movement occasional, the shooting palsied. They scored once, a slightly fortuitous goal well taken by Les Ferdinand, and managed just five other efforts on target all game. Had David Seaman not made a decent second-half save from the former Stenhousemuir striker, Lee Bullen, it might even have been a draw.

It was not a performance to have Italy and Germany quaking in their boots - though South Korea and Thailand, Hong Kong's World Cup opponents, might be worried.

The one plus was that there were no serious injuries, either here or in China. Steve Howey, who aggravated his calf problem and went off after an hour is a doubt for Euro 96 but Paul Gascoigne's blood poisoning has almost cleared up. The training injuries to Dennis Wise (thigh) and Robert Lee (calf) are not serious.

While the match did give Venables a chance to test Howey's fitness, and improve that of Alan Shearer, Tony Adams, and Darren Anderton, it did little to help his squad selection. If places were to be decided on this evidence Mike Duxbury and Everton's Dave Watson, a guest for Golden, should get surprise recalls.

At least Venables did not trot out the customary phrase: "There are no easy games at this level." Had he done so the reply might have been: "No, but still some silly ones." If his team cannot motivate themselves for such a game (and that looked to be one problem), and he is not using it for tactical tinkering, one wonders why it was ever arranged.

Looking around the ground one possible answer came to mind. While the FA is not saying how much England were paid for this trip, it could be as much as pounds 750,000. Hong Kong sources have talked of a pounds 400,000 match fee plus expenses and the Chinese leg is believed to be similar. England wore their grey (sorry, indigo blue) kit again yesterday - and it was retailing in stadium shops at pounds 60 for shirt and shorts. The white strip was not on sale.

Venables would not have been a part of this, and he does have a point when he says it is necessary to become acquainted with Asian football. But it is still six years before the World Cup is to be staged here. While possible hooliganism put Europe out of bounds, the North American option, as taken by Scotland, still seems a better one.

Nevertheless this trip has achieved the goal of deepening the squad spirit. The strangeness of the locations, and the odd problem, have bonded the team together in a similar process to that experienced by the more successful cricket tours of the sub-continent. This will, however, make the sense of loss about to be experienced by five members of the party all the harder to bear.

Venables has already told at least one player he will not be involved in Euro 96 (probably Jamie Redknapp). The others will told before they arrive back at Heathrow early tomorrow morning.

One player who could get the dreaded tap on the shoulder is Ferdinand, despite scoring yesterday. His touch was again shown up by England's emphasis on a slow measured build-up while his strengths, running onto the ball and meeting crosses, were again underused.

His goal briefly promised an opening of the floodgates, England having finally gained control of possession. They nearly suffered a nightmare start when a hesitant Howey hit a clearance straight at Carlton Fairweather. The former Wimbledon striker was unable to take advantage.

Ferdinand was sharper with his chance. It followed a neat dribble by Steve McManaman who reached the by-line before pulling the ball back to Teddy Sheringham. He mis-cued his shot but Ferdinand was able to head it into goal.

Before that a blocked shots from McManaman (along with Seaman the only player to emerge with credit) and a tame 20-yarder from Sheringham were all England had offered.

It was poor fare to put before a decent crowd (though not a full one, prices ranged from pounds 16 to sit in the rain to pounds 45) and a stunning setting. The ground, run by Wembley (which might explain the prices) and paid for by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, is a larger, sub-tropical version of Huddersfield's.

Surrounded by skyscrapers and lush vegetation, it should have been an inspiring place to play, especially with cooling rain assuaging the effects of the humid afternoon. There were plenty of Premiership shirts to make the players feel at home (worn by ex-pat Brits and local Chinese) and the customary banners, from a flag mourning the defunct Maidstone, to one exclaiming "Toon to Kowloon - Geordie joiners on tour". The most noticeable banner from Wednesday, a vast "England are the dogs bollocks" appeared not to have made it out of China.

None of this managed to lift England who were no better in the second half, though Shearer's arrival gave the attack more focus. He even managed a rare three attempts on goal (rare for England). One was saved, one deflected and one badly missed after Stuart Pearce's shot had rebounded to him.

Golden, playing in a ghastly fluorescent pink, almost had their moment of glory after 52 minutes. Phil Neville, pushing up, played a bad pass behind Paul Ince, his tackle failed to recover the ball and Bullen was released. He outpaced Adams, battled through some mutual shoving, and shot at Seaman's feet.

The scare did not revive England and, within another 15 minutes some of the crowd were chanting "what a load of rubbish". At the end England were booed off. "We'll be ready by the time Euro 96 starts," said Venables. He has 13 days

Goal: Ferdinand (33) 1-0.

Golden XI (5-4-1): Hesford (Eastern); Grainger (Golden), Van der Sander (Golden), Duxbury (Golden), Watson (Everton), Lee Fook Wing (Golden); Grabo (Golden), Bajkusa (South China), Roberts (Golden), Fairweather (Golden); Bullen (Golden). Substitutes: Pang Kam Chuen (Golden) for Bajkusa, 76; Li Shing Kit (Golden) for van der Sander, 80.

England XI (4-4-2): Seaman (Arsenal); P Neville (Manchester Utd), Howey (Newcastle), Adams (Arsenal), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Stone (Nottingham Foest), Platt (Arsenal), Ince (Internazionale), McManaman (Liverpool); Sheringham (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Newcastle). Substitutes: Shearer (Blackburn) for Ferdinand, h-t; Campbell (Tottenham) for Howey, 59; Anderton (Tottenham) for Stone, 62; Fowler (Liverpool) for Sheringham, 72; Wilcox (Blackburn) for McManaman, 78.

Referee: S Seelarjar (Malaysia).

Bookings: None.

Man of the match: Watson. Attendance: 26,000.

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