Football: England's tattered troops face a Brazilian lesson: Ferdinand heads for home as tormented Taylor insists that his players can salvage some pride despite threat from South American elite

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The Independent Online
TAKING ON the Brazilians after losing to the United States is akin to going in with Rambo on the back of a hiding from Mickey Mouse, and England approach tomorrow's US Cup tie against the most talented team in the world in danger of the mother and father of a thrashing.

Many of us who witnessed Brazil's scintillating 3-3 draw with Germany on Thursday have spent the last 24 hours chasing odds on a double-figure margin. The South Americans were that good in the period in which they built a three-goal lead; England that bad during the dismal three-match run which has brought Graham Taylor's managership to crisis point.

Taylor declined to name his team yesterday, inviting the scornful suggestion that he hadn't got one. Brazil, too, delay selection but in their case it is in the knowledge that they can afford to slip in a reserve or six and still be confident of a handsome win.

If we needed any reminder of the declining standards of English football and the growing gulf between the domestic and world games - doubtful after the events of the last two weeks - Thursday's match in the RFK Stadium came as a real dig in the spare ribs.

In the first half, when they scored their three goals, the Brazilians played football of a quality beyond any team in Europe, let alone poor old England. Lightning-fast pace and the mesmeric infiltrations of Valdeir and Elivelton on the flanks made Barnes and Waddle look as rapid as 'killer' Kilcline, and the slick, incisive passing triangles assembled by Dunga and Rai in midfield exposed the illegitimacy of Paul Gascoigne's claim to world class.

Three times in the opening minutes, the Brazilians played passes off the chest with a facility England would struggle to match with their feet. And then there is Careca. Fully motivated again by the search for a new club, the best striker in the world gave Germany's accomplished defenders as uncomfortable a half as their followers could remember. Eat your heart out, Ian Wright.

If Brazil turn it on against England as they did during those irresistible 45 minutes, it could easily be 10. The mind boggles at what they might do to a back four embarrassed by Roy Wegerle.

Carnage would come as no surprise, yet history militates against it. The Brazilians have always enjoyed an enormous advantage in terms of inherent skill and athleticism, but it is 12 years since they last beat England, and 24 since they scored twice.

The laid-back attitude which let the Germans salvage an unlikely draw in injury time should ensure that the defeat, which is deemed inevitable here, is kept down to respectable proportions.

By the end on Thursday, it was the South Americans, rather than Europe's finest, who were easing up to conserve energy in the 90-degree heat.

The humidity is also well up in the 90s, and England's players were wilting on arrival in Washington, and sought refuge in their palace of a hotel in preference to attending the match. Someone said they might have picked up something from doing so. Like an inferiority complex, presumably.

It all sounded a little weedy after the talk of Careca, Klinsmann and Riedle, but England will be without Les Ferdinand, who has finally succumbed to his long-standing back injury, and will play no further part in the tournament. David Platt is also still hampered by a wrenched ankle, but Wright has been passed fit to play the full 90 minutes.

Taylor is speaking hopefully, but without managing to sound convincing, about a restorative victory. 'A very big challenge for us,' was his familiar description of a game he can ill afford to lose.

He was taking 'a lot of stick', he said, after the defeats by Norway and the United States, but knew there could be much worse to come. 'Our most important games are the World Cup ties against Poland, Holland and San Marino next season. If people think what I'm under now is pressure, just wait until we play Poland at home in September.'

Would he still be in charge, come the autumn? 'Yes. The Football Association have always been good employers to all the previous England managers and they are being excellent at the present time.'

Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, insisted his international committee were 'unanimous' in their continued support for the embattled manager, but Taylor's performance, and position, are sure to be discussed at the association's summer conference, in Bournemouth on 25 June.

He may be safe for the time being, but his employers' 'unanimity' would appear to be strained, to say the least, with the FA chairman, Bert Millichip, chuntering on to all and sundry about his 'embarrassment' at the results in Poland, Norway and Boston.

He was at it again yesterday, when he said: 'Of course I'm worried, and I'm not going to sit back and do nothing about it. I want to get the situation put right.'

With the players at such a low ebb, it will probably take a change to do it.

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