Football: Batty and Ince must get close to Romania

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The Independent Online
THERE IS a great deal of satisfaction in the England camp after the victory over Tunisia and rightly so. We looked solid throughout and in the end were comfortable winners of a game that was always going to be awkward because it was the first of the competition. It set us up nicely for Romania on Monday, a make-or-break game because it should decide who comes out on top of Group G.

There are still areas of concern, however, and the big worry I had about the England performances before the tournament was that the central midfield players were not closing the ball down quickly enough. Against Portugal we saw the dangers of allowing the opposition to run at your back four. The central defenders are only as good as the midfield allows.

The problem comes when players get behind the ball and assume their job is done when in fact it's only part of the job. They have to get close enough to the ball to prevent the other player from making the final pass which threatens to unlock your defence. You must not allow the opposition time to lift their head and see the final ball.

In the last 10 minutes of the Tunisian game I felt the midfield players went back to old habits and I was concerned to see Graeme Le Saux give his winger room to make the cross. You've got to remain concentrated the full 90 minutes. You never see Italy or Argentina getting done by late goals. On the contrary; they are more likely to be scoring them in that time.

David Batty and Paul Ince are the best players to do that job, but my concern before the Tunisian game was that we did not have enough forward- looking players in that area of the field. Neither of them are the best passers in the world and I don't like to see Batty take possession off the back four and settle for knocking the ball square or behind him.

You have to feel sorry for David Beckham, who was left out to make way for Darren Anderton, but the England camp can not afford to have a brooding, disaffected presence around the place and the sooner Beckham understands that the better.

The coach can pick only 11 players and in that respect Glenn Hoddle has an unenviable job. The chances are that Beckham will get his chance as the competition goes on. Somebody will pick up an injury, or Glenn will decide that one area of the team is not functioning as well as it might.

In my column a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that it wasn't until England's 1966 team reached the quarter-finals and the clash with Argentina that Geoff Hurst won a place in the team.

We had all been expecting Jimmy Greaves to score our World Cup goals, but in the event he was injured for the quarter-final with a nasty cut on his shin that turned a nice shade of blue and yellow. I know how painful it was because when I went to touch it Jimmy jumped a mile in the air. Because of that I don't believe Alf Ramsey dropped Jimmy Greaves from the World Cup, but it helped make up his mind.

Glenn will have spoken with Beckham, but it's important that no one puts any pressure on the coach. He has a hard enough job trying to satisfy all the hopes of the press and television and all the people back home. We have seen with Faustino Asprilla the upset and disruption that can occur when a player makes critical remarks of the manager. It's a Dutch allergy as well - they always seem to come up with a reason to cause internal dissent and harm their chances. Glenn is doing a good job and he should be left alone to get on with it.

The England lads looked very concentrated and determined against Tunisia and that's a healthy sign. The mood will be upbeat in the camp but the players must keep their minds on the job in hand, because Romania now becomes the most important game in the group.

In the 1994 finals after Ireland's marvellous opening win over Italy it was a surprise to some that we then went and lost to Mexico. I always maintain that we would have beaten Mexico had the game been played anywhere but Orlando. It was hot in New Jersey against the Italians (96 degrees), but in Florida it was 120 degrees at pitch level. It was also a midday kick-off. Everything seemed against us that day and thankfully England won't encounter those problems in Toulouse.

I would expect Hoddle to name an unchanged team. The only question mark would be over Batty, but in a way there's more of a case to be made to play him and Ince together in this game than there was against Tunisia. Romania have quick and skilful players and we will need our tackling players to get in quickly when the opposition have the ball inside our half. I fully expect them to do just that.