England rue missed opportunities

INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL: Reshaped side makes an accomplished start against high-quality opposition

England 0 Croatia 0

New style, same old failing. But, while England were unable to find the goal against Croatia last night they discovered something more important - the confidence to play in an unfamiliar structure.

While England's repeated failure to score remains a concern - this was their third goalless draw in six matches and fifth under Terry Venables - they produced a far from sterile performance. There were chances galore - England had 14 shots and several scrambles. Had Robbie Fowler shown his usual touch in front of goal; had Steve McManaman enjoyed better fortune; or the Polish referee not been so sharp-eyed; England would have garnered the goals they deserved.

The new three-man defence, after some early jitters, worked well. The midfield was both inventive and disciplined while the forwards, though poor in front of goal, were lively around the box. There was promise aplenty.

Although Croatia appeared keener on securing a draw than risking a win, there was an edge about the game - four bookings were testament to that. Their quality was also in evidence.

England were thankfully back in white, the Croatians in chessboard red. The analogy was apt as the opening moments were as much chess as football, all angles and patterns as England settled into their new system.

There were teething problems. Robert Jarni went past Steve Stone on the right and Mark Wright had to make an important clearance; then Robert Prosinecki, given space 25 yards out, sent a dipping shot just over the bar.

Slowly England began to feel their way into the system and, after 11 minutes, started to explore its potential. Fowler stole possession, stepped into the area and curled an inviting pass behind the defence to Stone. Unfortunately, he scooped his shot over the bar.

In response Zvonimir Boban set up Dubravko Pavlicic who drove a low shot which David Seaman gathered at the second attempt.

Then England scored - twice, but neither "goal" counted. With 22 minutes gone Stuart Pearce crossed deep from the left, Teddy Sheringham challenged Marijan Mrmic and the ball spilled from the goalkeeper's grasp. Fowler tapped the ball in but Zbigniew Przesmycki had spotted Sheringham's arm across the goalkeeper's.

His linesman intervened six minutes later when Sheringham's cushioned header, from Stone's cross, found David Platt bursting into the box in typical fashion. Platt converted the chance but the flag was already up.

In between England had created a legitimate opportunity but Fowler was unable to direct his header, from Stone's cross, away from Mrmic. The goalkeeper remained busy as the half ended, pushing a Sheringham overhead kick past the post then blocking a close-range header by David Platt.

That chance had come, like so many others, from the right wing, Stone having released Gary Neville on the overlap with a neat reverse pass. It seemed, for all the new tactics and flexible thinking, that it was the old English strength, crosses into the box, which was their most potent line of attack. Stone, in particular, was having a fruitful evening. His opponent, Jarni, was as attack-minded as him, but less solid defensively.

McManaman had been less prominent and, in the second half, he came inside more often. There were early dividends as he linked with Paul Ince, then after 57 minutes, he almost hit the jackpot.

A sweeping move, beginning with Seaman, progressing through Gascoigne and Stone, took a fortuitous turn when Fowler failed to control Stone's pass and it ran to McManaman. He had only the goalkeeper to beat but Mrmic got enough of his body in the way to deny him.

Generally, Croatia were now defending full time. They were not helped by a series of substitutions - Terry Venables, tellingly, made none for the first time in his tenure.

He should have been rewarded with a goal. The most glaring miss was by Fowler after 70 minutes. Platt released McManaman on the left, his low cross came to Fowler who, six yards out, volleyed over.

McManaman then went even closer. After Sheringham laid a cross back to him he sent a hitch-kick volley against the inside of the post, the ball rebounded to Sheringham who put it wide. Croatia were briefly stirred and Prosinecki brought Seaman from his slumber with a testing shot.

Had it gone in it would have brought an undeserved victory - but it would have underlined the reality that, at international level, chances must be taken.

ENGLAND (3-5-1-1): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Wright (Liverpool), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Stone (Nottingham Forest), Gascoigne (Rangers), Ince (Internazionale), Platt (Arsenal), McManaman (Liverpool); Sheringham (Tottenham), Fowler (Liverpool).

CROATIA (5-3-2): Mrmic (Varteks Varazdin); Pavlicic (Alicante), Stimac (Derby County), Jarni (Real Betis), Bilic (West Ham United), Jerkan (Real Oviedo); Asanovic ((Hadjuk Split), Prosinecki (Barcelona), Boban (Milan); Suker (Seville), Boksic (Lazio). Substitutes: Stanic (Club Bruges) for Boban, h-t; Soldo (Croatia Zagreb) for Stimac, 57; Pamic (Osijek) for Boksic, 70; Mladenovic (Gamba Osaka) for Pavlicic, 73.

Referee: Z Przesmycki (Poland).

Home countries fail,

Last night's results, page 27,

Tottenham rights issue, page 21

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'