Football: England add a touch of passing mastery

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The Independent Online
ALL week my fellow Frenchmen have been asking me about England - sadly, more often about the supporters than the team. "What is the problem with the English, David, that they do what they did in Marseilles?" they ask me. What can I tell them to defend the country where I earn my living?

I tell them that England is a country of football and passion for the game but for the three years I have been playing there I have never seen such scenes, either before, during or after a match. I tell them that it is not everybody who is like this. Really, I say, the English are just like the Scottish we have seen. They like to drink some beer but mostly they are of good humour. It is only those who want to make themselves important who behave so badly. It really is a shame for all the English people I know so well who are perfectly decent.

It seems that only when this group of hooligans go abroad there is trouble and I think this is what must be looked at. The government and the football authorities have to make more checks about who goes to the games outside England. You have an expression about travelling well, I think, and many supporters do not. The team has travelled well so far, though. It is always difficult in the first game to play well and also win but against Tunisia, England looked very strong. In fact there was a strength in all departments of the team and I can't say that I saw any real weaknesses.

We have always known that the English have fighting spirit - of the right kind, on the pitch, I mean - and now there is a lot more of the passing game too. We even saw Gareth Southgate and Sol Campbell coming out of defence with the ball and starting movements.

I think it was clever the way that Glenn Hoddle played Paul Scholes in the midfield just behind Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham but linking up with them to form three forwards. For many people, perhaps here in France more than in England, Scholes was a revelation but not for me. I have watched his performances for Manchester United and know just what he is capable of.

He is a little bit like Gazza because he likes to make runs from the midfield; he dribbles the ball well and is clever in his vision but he is a separate talent, his own talent. He likes to get on the ball very early in attacks, then comes late into the 18-yard box, where he is very dangerous. We could be watching the development of a World Cup star.

We know already that Alan Shearer is one. In this competition you have to be realistic, and ruthless, and when chances come you have to take them. Shearer does this. All the time in the first half against Tunisia you could see England improve and it was inevitable that Shearer would round off the work with a goal.

I suppose it was controversial for Hoddle to leave out David Beckham when he had played all the qualifying games but the coach is seeing things in training that the rest of us are not. Darren Anderton has no doubt trained hard and looked good in pre-competition.

Besides, I know Darren very well from Tottenham and I know just what a good player he is. I think he provides just the right balance on one wing for Graeme Le Saux on the other, with one naturally an attacking player and the other more defensive in his inclination. I feel sure, though, that Beckham has a part to play.

There were some who say that England lack a little pace but I would not worry too much about that on the evidence of the first match. The temperature in Marseilles, with the game taking place in the heat of the afternoon, was more than 30 degrees and the players had to pace themselves. I think the weather will be better for quicker football tomorrow night in Toulouse when England play Romania. These Romanians are a very skilful team and will be very difficult to overcome.

Elsewhere, the Nigerians have lived up to my expectations of them and I really enjoyed their match against Spain, which was a very difficult game to win. The Chileans too have impressed me with the skill they have shown and it could be fascinating if they meet Brazil next Saturday in the second round, as seems the possibility.

And the French? There is no doubt they have done well up until now, though the injury to Christophe Dugarry and the sending-off of Zinedine Zidane were two black clouds over their 4-0 win against Saudi Arabia. We will not know the true quality of the team, though, until they have played better opposition than South Africa or the Saudis.

So far it has been an interesting World Cup, with some good goals and good games, not too many bad tackles and a good quality of football. I think it will get better, too.

David Ginola was talking to Ian Ridley.