Football: England pay for technical deficiencies

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S DEFEAT in Toulouse last night emphasised again the collective shortcomings that are potentially disastrous against the best teams at this level of competition.

Inferior both in individual technique and in team-work, England's witless policy, based on aerial attack from the flanks, never promised to give them the initiative. Hard as they fought to draw level after going behind early in the second half, they were always relying more on hope than imagination.

As in their opening game against Tunisia in Marseilles last week, England failed to establish the compact shape required at this level of the game.

This soon caused consternation for Tony Adams and Sol Campbell, who had the large responsibility of ensuring that Romania's most skilful attacker, Adrian Ilie, was kept away from the penalty area.

Coming up this time against a much more experienced team who showed plenty of collective cunning, England found it difficult to make headway, although Paul Scholes confirmed the good impression he has already made in these finals.

Romania did not make the mistake of giving away silly free-kicks through attempting to tackle Alan Shearer from behind and, as a result, the Newcastle centre-forward had to work a great deal harder at the furthest point of attack.

Scholes apart, however, most of England's attacks developed along familiar lines, most of them leading to high centres that were of no great problem to Romania's tall goalkeeper Bogdan Stelea.

Allowing Romania too much room in which to build their movements, especially when Gheorghe Hagi was drifting around in midfield, England looked uncomfortable when Romania attacked in strength.

England found themselves in big trouble when the ball was lost in midfield, prompting a counter-attack that sent Ilie away on Romania's right. The defence back-peddled furiously, allowing Ilie to attempt to recreate his wonderful goal against Colombia - this time the lobbed shot came back into play off the face of the cross bar.

Ironically, it was an injury to the effective Paul Ince that led to England playing with more purpose. David Beckham came on to replace the Liverpool midfielder and his earlier, longer use of the ball gave Romania more problems than they had experienced in the 30 minutes before the United player's entrance.

As half-time approached, England were increasing the volume of their attacks, but it was abundantly clear that the system manager Glenn Hoddle favours - five men strung across midfield, two of them acting as wing backs - was not working as well as he would like.

Darren Anderton did well enough when called upon to drop back and cover, but Graeme Le Saux often looked uncertain and vulnerable to passes sent inside him.

The confusion often evident in England's defence, especially when Romania's attackers attempted a blind-side run, cost them a goal only a minute after the second half started. Two men were lured to the ball following a throw- in on Romania's right and the Coventry striker, Viorel Moldovan, slipped a despairing lunge by Tony Adams to put Romania ahead.

Increased tempo, which was partly the result of Romania's more cautious policy after going ahead, partly due to a draining of their energy, especially that of the older men in the team, gave England a more purposeful look, but there was still a marked absence of cohesion and wit.

The introduction of Michael Owen for Teddy Sheringham in the 73rd minute gave England the prospect of penetrating speed but too much of their work was hurried and inconclusive.

No fault could be found with England's spirit, however, and with only seven minutes left England drew level: a long ball came in from the right and, at last, there was an attacker on hand, inevitably Owen, to apply the finishing touch.

Then, with one point appearing all but a certainty for England, Dan Petrescu stole even that consolation. Switching to the left flank he chased down a hopeful punt, manhandling his Chelsea colleague Le Saux out of the way to flick the ball between David Seaman's legs and undo all Owen's work.

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