Football: England arrive at party in style

England 2 Shearer 42, Scholes 89 Tunisia 0 Att: 54, 587
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The Independent Online
THE COUNTRY may have been brought to a standstill yesterday afternoon but England are up and full of running. Apart from an early wobble and late nerves, Glenn Hoddle's team produced a polished and composed performance in the Stade Velodrome to secure their first World Cup victory since Gary Lineker's penalties defeated Cameroon eight years ago.

It was Lineker's successor as England's leading striker who set up their victory. In a World Cup which promises to be as evenly balanced as any, the goalscoring elite may make the difference and England were delighted to see Alan Shearer follow Marcelo Salas and Gabriel Batistuta in making an early mark.

Shearer scored after 42 minutes to cap a period of intense English pressure. Then, a minute from the end, Paul Scholes scored an excellent second to conclude a convincing start to England's Group G campaign.

Future opponents will be stronger than Tunisia who, Adel Sellimi apart, looked a very ordinary team, one of the weakest in these finals. However, none of the other contenders for the prize have looked any better. In the first match, the points are the most important thing.

Romania took all three from the group's other match in Lyons yesterday, and England will meet them in Toulouse on Monday. Before that game, which will be a far more testing encounter, they will rest and rehearse at their Brittany base, which they flew back to last night.

Although Romania looked impressive, England will also be confident after a performance which grew in conviction. As expected Darren Anderton did replace David Beckham and, though his use of the ball was sometimes poor, he added pace and movement to the right flank. Gareth Southgate took the right centre-back position and, apart from occasionally being drawn inside, did well. In central midfield David Batty and Paul Ince sat behind Scholes, who produced a performance to banish any lasting memory of Paul Gascoigne.

While his range of pass is not as good as Gascoigne's, Scholes brought other gifts to the position. He goes past people with an alacrity Gascoigne can no longer manage, keeps possession just as well and his temper better. He also provides a goalscoring threat now well beyond the fallen idol.

After all the preparation and waiting England had started slowly. In the fourth minute, Sellimi was able to draw all three central defenders to him before slipping the ball to Skander Souayah on the edge of the box. It was a wonderful chance but he shot lamely and Sol Campbell was able to deflect the ball wide, not that it would have unduly troubled David Seaman. It was to prove the best opportunity Tunisia were to create. Although Sellimi was always threatening, he rarely had the required support.

England now asserted themselves. Anderton, Scholes and Ince each had a sniff of goal before Scholes very nearly scored. Ince won possession from Souayah in midfield, played a one-two with Teddy Sheringham, then fed Graeme Le Saux outside him. Scholes met the chipped cross with a downward header but Chokri El- Ouaer was able to block.

Seven minutes later the goalkeeper was drawn into an even better save as Sheringham, chesting a loose ball 30 yards out, turned and volleyed only for El-Ouaer to push the shot against the crossbar.

Scholes allowed El-Ouaer to produce another save with a mis-hit shot from Sheringham's cross, then might have had a penalty when he tumbled under Jose Clayton's challenge. England were in total command but needed to make it count. Three minutes from the break they did. Shearer won a free-kick and, from Le Saux's cross, glanced a fine header in off the post. It was his 19th goal in 40 internationals and 14th in the last 17.

Khaled Badra, running onto a long ball from Sellimi, reminded England to guard against complacency but they quickly regained ascendancy in the second period. Scholes had several efforts and even Tony Adams and Southgate, following the first-half example of Campbell, made forays forward.

Yet the second goal did not come and, as Zubeir Beya, with a shot, and Tarek Thabet, with a header, went close, England began to grow tense. Anderton and Sheringham both wasted chances to set up a clinching goal so, with six minutes left, Hoddle decided to play his trump card. On came Michael Owen and, such was the rapturous response from the crowd, England's mood visibly brightened. Five minutes later Ince ploughed through the middle and back-flicked a neat pass to Scholes, who held off Thabet before curling a 20-yard shot inside the far post. It was a goal worthy of the world stage.

A booking for Campbell - for a clumsy challenge - aside, the only discordant notes were the noises off the pitch. Before and after the game the familiar sound of police sirens rent the air. Inside the stadium the minute's silence for Fernand Sastre was revoltingly ignored, the Tunisian anthem booed and the now-dated refrain of "No Surrender" given voice.

However, there was no trouble inside the ground, despite the breakdown of segregation and a truly staggering English presence. Approaching 20,000- plus - surely the largest support to follow England overseas - they lifted an English team who must have felt they were was playing at home.

The sunshine, azure blue skies and mountainous Provencal skyline disabused them of that notion - but at least they now feel at home in the World Cup arena.

ENGLAND (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Southgate (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal), Campbell (Tottenham Hotspur); Anderton (Tottenham Hotspur), Ince (Liverpool), Scholes (Manchester United), Batty (Newcastle United), Le Saux (Chelsea); Sheringham (Manchester United), Shearer (Newcastle United). Substitute: Owen (Liverpool) for Sheringham, 84.

TUNISIA (1-2-5-2): El-Ouaer (Esperance); Badra (Esperance); S Trabelsi (CS Sfaxien), Boukadida (Etoile Sahel); S Trabelsi (CS Sfaxien), Ghodbane (Etoile Sahel), Souayah (CS Sfaxien), Chihi (Esperance), Clayton (Etoile Sahel); Sellimi (Real Jaen), Ben Slimane (Freiburg). Substitutes: Beya (Freiburg) for Souayah, h-t; Ben Younes (Etoile Sahel) for Slimane, 64; Thabet (Esperance) for H Trabelsi, 79.

Referee: M Okada (Japan).