England's cruise control

World Cup qualifiers: Sheringham and Ferdinand strike as Hoddle's master plan reigns in Georgia; Georgia 0 England 2 Sheringham 15, Ferdinand 37 Attendance: 48,000
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The Independent Online
England marked their 100th World Cup match by doffing their cap, rather than raising the bat. Cavalier it was not, comfortable and competent instead; an appropriately professional job which drew the sting from potentially dangerous opponents in difficult circumstances.

Goals by Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand in the first half allowed England to coast in the second with some neat possession play - made the more admirable as the surface was bumpy - that doused the crowd's ardour and demoralised the Georgian players. It all added up to a third consecutive win under Hoddle and a three-point lead at the top of Group Two, with their next opponents Italy due at Wembley on 12 February.

Glenn Hoddle's game-plan worked to perfection. His team selection took most by surprise, but there was sound logic to it. Georgia's strength lies in midfield and Hoddle countered with the tigerish Paul Ince and David Batty. The latter was quite outstanding as the right man for the right day while three central defenders, splendidly organised by the captain, Tony Adams, formed a formidable grey wall.

Alongside Adams, Sol Campbell was a model of timely tackling and smart positioning on his first start for his country while David Beckham ran the right flank intelligently. Up front, Sheringham, his link play and thoughtful passing just what England had been missing last month against Poland, blended well with Ferdinand to cover up for the absence of Alan Shearer.

The one disappointment was the form of Paul Gascoigne. He was, admittedly, instrumental in instigating the moves for both goals, having been instructed by Hoddle to stay forward, but his stamina and mobility again looked in serious doubt as he strolled his way through the second half, often interrupting the momentum of movement. Hoddle's faith was barely justified.

The Georgians, too, were a disappointment, made more so by England's smothering tactics in midfield with no player - especially not the twinkle- toed Georgi Kinkladze - allowed to dwell on the ball. The frustrated Manchester City player was forced deeper and deeper to seek the ball, unable to inflict any damage.

Georgia threatened only in their first flush of enthusiasm when Gareth Southgate trod on the ball, and Shota Arveladze was released for a shot but was high and wide. From Kinkladze's corner Kakha Tskhadadze sent in a header which was similarly inaccurate. Soon after, the lively Temur Ketsbaia almost tricked Southgate but David Seaman was alert to his low cross-shot.

And that was about it. Apart from that flurry, the signs had been encouraging for England from the outset with the Georgians taking every opportunity to indulge themselves in defence, leaving themselves open to counter-attack and looking distinctly uneasy when England ran at them. Almost immediately, Beckham found Sheringham in space and his one-two with Gascoigne almost saw him in before Nugzar Lobjanidze robbed him at the last.

Then England took the lead. Gascoigne nudged a pass in field to Ferdinand and his cross-field ball found Sheringham. The Spurs striker's marker Murtaz Shelia dived into a forlorn tackle, and Sheringham ran on to clip a shot which deflected off the sweeper Tskhadadze and into the net.

Sheringham's fifth goal for his country was a return of favour by Ferdinand who had profited the last time the two had played together against Bulgaria earlier this year. Soon Sheringham was provider once more as England doubled their lead.

Again Gascoigne helped the ball on, Sheringham spotted Ferdinand's run and from his chip forward the Newcastle striker nipped in ahead of Tskhadadze before finishing powerfully with a left-footed drive. There was a minor alarm for England before half-time when Ketsbaia fell theatrically under a challenge from Adams but by and large England had succeeded on a gorgeous Georgian day in reducing the crowd and their favourites, by now on their way to their sixth defeat in seven games, to sullenness.

It continued so in the second half with the only blemish on England's controlled, capable performance being a booking for Beckham. The Georgians did rouse themselves, but it was all too late. Kinkladze finally succeeded in piercing the defence with a weaving run, but England's clear-up work summed up their strength; Campbell shepherded Kinkladze towards the by- line while Batty slid in with a cutting tackle. They also had half a chance when a cross by Georgi Ghudushauri was headed down by Ketsbaia only for Levan Kobiashvili to shoot high over the bar.

England might indeed have made the margin of victory more handsome when Gascoigne sent Ian Wright, replacing Ferdinand, on a run but the goalkeeper Irakli Zoidze saved well.

England had to duck a few plastic bottles thrown from the stands by the Georgian fans, but the smiles of satisfaction left their faces only briefly.

"This is not an easy place to come to and win," said Hoddle. "I showed the team a 45-minute video in which Georgia had torn teams apart. The tactics were right, the players agreed with them and the proof of it was in the performance."

In was indeed impressive stuff but as the top-class batsmen know, you do not rest on your laurels once the century is successfully negotiated.

Georgia: Zoidze, Lobjanidze (Dinamo Tbilisi, capt), Tskhadadze (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shelia (Alania Vladikavkaz), Kobiashvili, Gogichaishvili (Dinamo Tbilisi), Nemsadze (Trabzonspor), Jamarauli (Dinamo Tbilisi), Ketsbiai (AEK Athens), Kinkladze (Manchester City), Arveladze (Trabzonspor). Substitutes: Ghudushauri (Salmrohr) for Kobiashvili 67, Gogrichiani (Zhemchuzhina Sochi) for Arveladze 52.

England: Seaman (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal, capt), Campbell (Tottenham), Beckham (Manchester United), Hinchcliffe (Everton), Batty (Newcastle), Gascoigne (Rangers), Ince (Internazionale), Sheringham (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Newcastle). Substitutes: Wright (Arsenal) for Ferdinand 81.

Referee: J C Monteiro (Portugal).

Postcard from Georgia, Page 31

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