England foiled by stubborn Colombia

England 0 Colombia 0
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The Independent Online
GLENN MOORE

reports from Wembley

England 0 Colombia 0

A goalless draw, played out in pouring rain in front of 60,000 empty seats, is not usually the type of occasion to quicken the pulse. But England's stalemate with Colombia here last night was rich with promise and incident. A fresh, inexperienced England side hit the woodwork on three occasions against a Colombian team featuring nine of the players that brought them third place in the summer's Copa America.

Paul Gascoigne, though sporting a less visible haircut, was easy to spot as he drew good performances from Terry Venables' clutch of young lions, Nick Barmby, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp.

The Rangers' midfielder still looks short of fitness, and he was not subjected to even a pretence of man-marking, but there were signs that his touch is coming back with his strength.

The passing and movement of his team-mates also augured well for the future. England were fluid and inventive and, although the defence appeared shaky at times, the team looked as if they were beginning to grasp the principles Venables is seeking to apply.

With both sides concentrating on a short-passing game and close support, the match at times resembled an advanced form of playground football with as many as 16 players clustered around the ball.

But the biggest difference from an average English league game was the amount of time the ball was on the ground. Even David Seaman was regularly playing the ball out to his defenders, rather than pumping his clearances into the autumn air.

All very encouraging, but there was one disappointing aspect of the night: the poor attendance of 20,038. It was the lowest of Venables' reign, for the best performance.

Those who did turn up were nearly cheering an English goal as early as the seventh minute. Gascoigne picked out Alan Shearer's well-timed run with a delicate 30-yard chip, the Blackburn striker gently lobbed Rene Higuita, but the ball rebounded off the bar and fell unkindly for the oncoming McManaman.

A minute later Shearer was on target as he ran on to Barmby's pass but Higuita parried at the near post. The Colombians responded with a sharp 30-yard shot from Freddy Rincon but Seaman parried the ball away comfortably.

The Arsenal keeper was to make several good saves as Colombia broke quickly and effectively. However, he was totally eclipsed by his Colombian counterpart, Higuita. The flamboyant goalkeeper stunned and thrilled the crowd with an audacious first-half clearance following a rare poor cross by Redknapp.

It floated straight at the goalkeeper who, under no pressure, opted to do a front somersault and kick it clear with his heels. It was both daring and risky - although a flag had gone up for offside, no whistle had blown and play continued from the unorthodox clearance.

Such trickery was difficult to match but England did their best, again hitting the woodwork after 26 minutes. Barmby, a constant influence, crossed to Shearer whose cushioned header was volleyed against the post by Gascoigne.

Gascoigne, who had started the move, then went close with a free-kick which Higuita pushed wide. England went in at half-time to a warm and deserved ovation from the sparse crowd. They were nearly rewarded with a goal immediately after the break. Gascoigne, once more, was the instigator, finding McManaman on the right. He threaded a pass through to Barmby, whose shot was half-blocked by Higuita. It spun up to Dennis Wise whose deflected volley hit the crossbar. Woodwork 3, England 0.

The theme was becoming repetitive but Colombia were by no means overwhelmed. Within minutes Seaman had fingertipped over a shot by Carlos Valderrama and Ivan Valenciano had shot over from a sweeping move. His next save came with 19 minutes left when Graeme Le Saux misjudged a bouncing ball to let Valenciano in. Seaman, diving boldly at his feet, blocked the Colombian's strike.

These breaks highlighted one of England's weaknesses. While the midfield hustled and hassled well enough when Colombia were knocking the ball about, they were exposed when the South Americans raised the tempo with a sharp counter-attack.

However, Colombian frustration at England's own sharpness was evident in their four bookings. Even a rash of substitutions could not dull England's edge and both Wise - after Higuita had nearly overplayed his hand - and Barmby could have scored in the closing minutes.

It was not to be but Venables will be more pleased with a good performance and a draw, than a poor one and a win.

ENGLAND (4-4-1-1): Seaman (Arsenal); Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Howey (Newcastle United), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers); Wise (Chelsea), Redknapp (Liverpool), Gascoigne (Rangers), McManaman (Liverpool); Barmby (Middlesbrough); Shearer (Blackburn Rovers). Substitutes: Sheringham (Tottenham) for Shearer (75); Barnes (Liverpool) for Gascoigne (75); Lee (Newcastle ) for Redknapp (75).

COLOMBIA (4-5-1): Higuita (Nacional Medellin); Santa (Nacional Medellin), Mendoza (Junior Barranquilla), Bermudez (America Cali), Wilson (America Cali); Rincon (Real Madrid), Lozano (Palmeiras), Valderrama (Junior Barranquilla), Alvarez (America Cali), Asprilla (Parma); Valenciano (Junior Barranquilla). Substitute: Quinonez (Once Caldas) for Lozano (h-t).

Referee: M Batta (France).

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