Football: Golden Scholes does the trick

The road to Euro 2000: England's faith is healed as Keegan's inspirational powers work wonders
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The Independent Online
England 3 Poland 1

Scholes 11 21 70 Brzeczek 29

Half-time: 2-1 Attendance: 73,836

IT DID NOT need a Carol Vorderman to solve this particular equation: Kevin Keegan's inspiration plus Wembley's fervent full-house support added to Poland's modest record at the old stadium. Even if you took away Poland's recent nine-match unbeaten run it still equalled a formality for the new coach. Or so we had anticipated.

The problem is that football has a habit of failing to turn out quite so scientifically precise, but yesterday there was no doubting the messianic qualities of "King Kev". The man who had once disgraced himself by discarding his shirt in disgust after being ordered off here as a player, this time strutted off at the final whistle with his head high and his arm around Paul Scholes whose hat-trick had provided the England coach with a satisfying, if not totally convincing, start to his brief reign.

From the moment he was appointed, Keegan's presence had engendered expectation of colossal proportions. Quite simply that the part-time, temporary coach would provide a quartet of victories to resurrect England's European Championship- qualifying hopes. If you did not inspect the evidence too closely, and the fact was that this was a win borne of battling endeavour rather than motivational power, it was one hell of a start. But then, this was like going into a Eurovision Song Contest with Cliff Richard at the microphone. Afterwards it was nothing but "Congratulations" from the crowd for the man who is as much an England mascot as management figure.

"We had it tough out there with the heat and the opposition. But everyone was committed and fighting for the cause," declared Keegan, who not only continued to refute any suggestion that he will abandon Fulham, but - I understand - has actually told some of their supporters that he wants to take the club into the Premiership.

It could be a fascinating dilemma for Keegan, come the end of his England tenure, though it is difficult to imagine that Sweden will be be quite so accommodating to his ambitions as this Poland side, largely devoid of enterprise or artistry, apart from their young master, Miroslaw Trzeciak.

Given the circumstances of the hand-over from Glenn Hoddle and the position in which he picked up the Euro 2000 mantle, it would be churlish to denigrate yesterday's achievement, in which newcomer Tim Sherwood played a particularly influential role and Scholes struck with a similar venom to that he displayed in France 98. Particularly so, with Keegan surveying an England cupboard more suited to a hard-up student than Marco Pierre White.

Yet, for as much as the Manchester United midfielder's goals - the classic trio of a header, a shot and an arm - should be applauded, it also served to cast some doubts on the authenticity of alliance of Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. The latter, in particular, was woefully wayward with one second- half attempt, although both players made significant contributions to the three goals.

With England naming their third coach in as many matches, the Poles believed they had a chance at least to emulate their legendary forebears of 1973 when that "clown" goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski and his team-mates held England to a 1-1 draw and prevented them from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. This year's vintage - who arrived with an unbeaten sequence which included a 3-0 win in Bulgaria, whom England could not defeat at home - never reached the standard required to deflect Keegan from his purpose. Qualification will still prove difficult for England. This tie was one they simply had to win, with Sweden, as expected, defeating Luxembourg.

It was clearly going to require time for several players who had not performed together to establish a rapport, but after only 11 minutes, the front and midfield players discovered an understanding that was to prove devastating for the Poles. A splendidly orchestrated piece of play between Cole and Shearer, following an intelligent pass from Graeme Le Saux, released Scholes, who had timed his run to perfection and dug the ball over Poland's goalkeeper, Adam Matysek, like an expert bunker shot for the fifth goal of his international career. Keegan could not have demanded a more agreeable introduction to his tenure than a goal to quell any anxiety in his men.

Keegan's instructions had apparently been to test Matysek's positioning at any opportunity. It was called into question after 21 minutes when Cole did well to beat his marker on the right, turn the ball forward to Beckham, who without hesitation delivered the kind of cross that has been his club hallmark all season. Scholes, so closely attended by defender Tomasz Lapinski they pair might have been handcuffed, deftly turned the ball past the goalkeeper for his second.

On closer inspection, it was evident that Scholes had directed the ball in with an arm, though it did not appear to be a deliberate act. There were limited protests by the Poles, who, having arrived for the draw, were now looking at a heavy defeat. That million-dollar bounty for qualification was looking mere fantasy.

Yet Trzeciak, the Polish footballer of the year, demonstrated that he could yet be a threat to Keegan's first start. His advance into the England defence brought a moment of ill-discipline among a home guard, in which Sol Campbell excelled. When the striker turned the ball across goal, the Poland captain, Jerzy Brzeczek, struck the ball home with an accuracy that left David Seaman flailing.

In truth, England's first-half dominance had been fitful. On occasions, Keegan's men looked full of vigour and enterprise, but too often there was a dearth of cohesion and a failure to take advantage of some inviting opportunities, a fault particularly epitomised by Steve McManaman, who can veer from the sublime to the ridiculous in seconds.

He rarely provided the crosses demanded by the strikers and though the Real Madrid-bound man improved after the interval, he was replaced by Ray Parlour 20 minutes from the end. Within a minute England had the ball in the net again with the completion of Scholes's hat-trick, that ginger pate rising above the defence after Shearer had nodded on Neville's throw.

It ensured that there would be no late retaliation by the Poles and the England coach could begin to relax and luxuriate in his first victory.


P W D L F A Pts

Sweden 3 3 0 0 5 1 9

England 4 2 1 1 7 3 7

Poland 3 2 0 1 7 3 6

Bulgaria 3 0 1 2 0 4 1

Luxembourg 3 0 0 3 0 8 0

Remaining fixtures: 31 Mar: Luxembourg v Bulgaria; Poland v Sweden. 5 June: Poland v Bulgaria; England v Sweden. 9 June: Luxembourg v Poland; Bulgaria v England. 4 Sept: Sweden v Bulgaria; England v Luxembourg. 8 Sept: Luxembourg v Sweden; Poland v England. 9 Oct: Sweden v Poland. 10 Oct: Bulgaria v Luxembourg.