Football Euro 2000 play-off: England keep confidence under control

Keegan praises `great performance' at Hampden and dismisses fears over strict referee for second leg
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The Independent Online
EVEN THE discovery that Pierluigi Collina, Paul Ince's least favourite referee, is to take charge of the European Championship play-off second- leg against Scotland tomorrow night, could not upset England's equilibrium yesterday.

Saturday's 2-0 first-leg win in Glasgow, coupled with a reasonably clean bill of health, has engendered a rare sense of confidence and well-being in Kevin Keegan's squad.

Apart from David Seaman, who has a minor calf injury, everyone trained yesterday, having rejoined the squad on Sunday after being given an unscheduled Saturday night off by the coach.

Keegan, mindful of past indiscretions, notably involving Teddy Sheringham who is not in the current squad, said: "The only rule was don't go to a nightclub. You have to trust them because at the end of the day my fate is in their hands."

That trust was extended to Signor Collina, who dismissed Ince in the opening European Championship qualifying tie in Sweden, having previously sent the midfielder off in a Serie A match.

"Third time lucky, that's what I say," Keegan said. "I'm not worried about [his past with Ince]. He's an excellent referee. He doesn't just stand out because of the way he looks [Collina is bald] but because he's one of the top ones."

Alan Shearer echoed Keegan's thoughts adding: "It shouldn't make any difference if we control ourselves in the way we did on Saturday. We didn't have any complaints about [Ince's dismissal]. That was two bad challenges, nowadays that means you're off."

Saturday's Spanish referee gave 10 yellow cards and, though Shearer thought some were harsh, he intimated that Collina could have a similarly busy evening.

"The tie is certainly not over," the England captain said. "They will be wounded and hurt by Saturday's result and they will come and give it one hell of a go. We will be ready. It will not be as easy as everyone is hoping it will be.

"I can understand that fans might expect four, five, maybe six goals but the players won't. We can see a very tight game, a game in which it is going to be important who gets the first goal. We have to make sure that that is us."

Though Saturday's display had its critics Shearer described it as a "fantastic away performance" and Keegan said it was a "great performance".

Keegan added: "Bearing in mind it was England-Scotland, the fact we do not play each other very much any more, and that we know so much about each other, I was ecstatic."

`Great' and `fantastic' may be overdoing it but what was impressive was the way England closed the game up so easily after half-time.

The contrast to Keegan's gung-ho reputation brought to mind a European tie midway through his reign as Newcastle manager. Playing Athletic Bilbao in the Uefa Cup, Newcastle went into the break in the home first-leg 2-0 up. Having beaten Antwerp 5-0 home and away in the previous round they came out looking for more goals but, after scoring through Andy Cole, conceded two late goals. They then lost 1-0 in Spain and went out on away goals.

"That was a great example to me of a match not being over," Keegan recalled yesterday, "but, no disrespect to the players I had there, they could not have defended like we defended against the Scots on Saturday.

"Those players were built differently. I remember our crowd started doing the Mexican wave and I could half-imagine them joining in. With these players I have everything: I can close a game down; I can open a game up. Having seen the players I now think I probably could go to the Ukraine and get a 0-0 draw."

That was a reference to Keegan's comment, when he took over as England coach, that he was `not the man' for such a task.

While this reflects the experience - and outlook - of players like Tony Adams, Ince and Martin Keown, it also suggests Keegan has become a more pragmatic coach.

One element which does not seem to have changed is his personality. Keegan said he regarded the players as equals, which did not seem the case with his predecessor, and they have responded positively.

Shearer, who played under Keegan at Newcastle, said: "He gets on with everyone. He treats them with respect and trust and that builds up relationships."

Keegan consults with senior players on things like training and even how they feel the team should play but, Shearer added, he is no soft touch. "If somebody over-stepped the line he would let them know. He has given you a little bit of rope and he doesn't expect you to pull it too much."

Besides, as Keegan said, it is all very well having spirit and togetherness but, without ability, commitment and intelligence, "it is not going to get you through."

Redknapp the team man, Tartan Army heads for Wembley, page 30