Football: Heads up as England's tactics work

Victory as Tunisia's El-Ouaer looks as fearful of crosses as Count Dracula.
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The Independent Online
CONSIDERING THE campaign to have Michael Owen installed alongside Alan Shearer and the doubts that were expressed when Darren Anderton was chosen ahead of David Beckham on the right side of midfield, Glenn Hoddle will have taken some satisfaction from England's first appearance in the 1998 World Cup finals.

A fairly comfortable victory in Marseilles over one of the tournament's lesser lights was a good enough start, even if it was not achieved without alarm in England's penalty area.

This is an aspect of the performance Hoddle and his assistants will have to address during the week before the next match against Romania in Toulouse, but two goals and a clean sheet cannot have been too far from Hoddle's aspirations.

Had Paul Scholes fared better with two attempts on goal before scoring England's second two minutes from time, the winning margin might have been doubled, but no coach is likely to complain when chances are being created.

They came frequently enough for England to believe that they can cause trouble for the best teams here, especially as defensive play generally has not been of the highest order.

Predictably, many of England's most threatening att-acks developed along the flanks leading to the centres that remain a feature of English club football. Whether Hoddle's men will be allowed so many opportunities to send in high balls during the weeks ahead is another matter, but it was a legi-timate enough ploy against the technically adept but physically inferior Tunisians.

The fact that Tunisia's goalkeeper Chokri El-Ouaer looked to be as fearful of crosses as Count Dracula made the policy even more understandable.

Foolishly, the Tunisian defen-ders added to his problem by giving away unnecessary free kicks that invited England to seek out the heads of Shearer, Teddy Sheringham and the auxiliaries who were summoned up for set-pieces.

Anderton's inclusion had the merit of pace over Beckham's more imaginative delivery from wide positions, but he must have looked a great deal better in rehearsals and the jury is still out on him and on England's overall strategy.

With a back line of three, too many gaps appeared on the right side of England's defence, particularly when moves broke down after Anderton had moved forward.

It could easily have been a calamitous start for England, one that left a question mark against defensive cohesion and the ability to cope with quick- footed forwards. When three men were drawn to the ball just inside the penalty area after only four minutes it took an alert intervention by Sol Campbell to prevent Skander Souayah from taking Sami Trabelsi's pass to give Tunisia the lead.

Played at a measured pace, the proceedings were further depressed by both Tunisia's retention of the ball in their own half and delaying tactics. Things livened up at last when England's best attack so far led to Scholes heading for goal only for his effort to strike the goalkeeper, whose desperate lunge at the ball helped it behind for a corner. Scholes' instinct of going straight at opponents made him the liveliest of England's attackers in the first half.

Almost inevitably, England went ahead when another free kick, this time taken by Graeme Le Saux, reached Shearer some four yards from goal. Jumping among panic-stricken defenders, he headed home a typical Shearer goal.

Tunisia continued to cause England problems with breaks from midfield, but they could never claim enough of the init-iative to be a real threat and looked a pretty ordinary outfit.

With Owen on for Sheringham, which cheered the massed ranks of England supporters, it was left to Scholes to get the second, his curling shot into the far corner, a reward for his consistent and imaginative effort.