Football: French dispel 'myth of Wembley'

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The Independent Online
ON A NIGHT when his French counterpart, Roger Lemerre, claimed that his team had gone some way towards dismantling "the myth of Wembley", Howard Wilkinson said he wanted to sleep on England's defeat before assessing the quality of their performance or his future role, if any, as national team coach, writes Phil Shaw.

"I haven't had time to consider being offered the manager's position, pre-supposing I'm even on the list," Wilkinson said, after becoming the first England manager to lose his first match since Alf Ramsey, also against the French, in 1963. "Driving home from Wembley I'd hoped to be able to look at my input and see whether it was good as it could have been.

"But I've only got as far as watching the game and I can't get past the fact that we gave the ball away. The first half started reasonably well, but our attacking deteriorated because every time we got the ball, as likely as not, we gave it away. Against a team like France, you give yourselves a problem doing that.

"The speed at which France went from their box to ours was exceptional. Zidane was the fulcrum for their creative play. He's an exceptional player.

Whoever becomes England's manager on a permanent basis, Wilkinson agrees that the Football Association must now move decisively to resolve the situation. "We have got to look forward to the Poland game," he said. "From the point of view of the team's prospects it is crucial that the team knows, or the FA knows, who is going to be in charge and were we are going for that game."

Lemerre, who prefaced his remarks by paying tribute to his predecessor, Aime Jacquet - "the man who built this team" - suggested that Wembley crowds no longer generated the kind of passion that frightens visiting teams.

"I played here in 1969 [when England beat France 5-0] and again last November to watch the Czech Republic game," he said. "The atmosphere is not what it used to be.

"When I go to watch Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea the fervour is still there. But at Wembley it is not as great. When the crowd are all behind England it's 10 times harder. Perhaps in some way it's the myth of Wembley disappearing."

Lemerre considered that the critical differences between the world champions and England lay in the accuracy of the French passing and the speed of Nicolas Anelka. Asked whether the 19-year-old Arsenal prodigy was the striker France had been searching for, he said he regarded him as having scored three goals, but added: "He got a lot of good passes."

Unlike Lemerre, Emmanuel Petit was in no mood to argue that Anelka should have had a hat-trick. "He scored two and that's enough," he said.

"We're very happy, but not proud because England did not deserve to lose. It was a very hard match," Petit added.