Football: Hoddle clings to Owen lifeline

European Championship: Luxembourg 0 England 3: Liverpool's teenage striker finds his goal touch as rocky England win to sound of boos
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The Independent Online
THEY PLAYED Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" at the beginning of this match but by the end it was a moot point how long Glenn Hoddle will do so.

Luxembourg's motley collection of modern-day butchers, bakers and candlestick- makers eventually fulfilled their allotted role of cannon fodder but gave England enough problems to expose any lingering pretensions that they are a major power in the game. Those glorious summer nights in St Etienne and Lens are as distant as a forgotten holiday romance in mid-winter, all that is left is the mundane domestic reality of a team bereft of belief in themselves and their manager.

For the second match in succession England were booed off by their own fans. The travelling support, having chorused "Boring, boring Hoddle" and made derogatory chants about Eileen Drewery, finished by informing the England coach "we're cold and we're all pissed off". Having stood, without cover, in drenching rain to watch this they had every right to be so.

England scored three times with Michael Owen, Alan Shearer and Gareth Southgate taking advantage of the lightweight opposition to lift their goal tally. But they needed to survive a sixth-minute penalty wasted by their opponents, scored their second from the spot themselves, and the third only as their part-time opponents, who played more than an hour with 10 men on Saturday, tired.

Throughout, England, as on Saturday, struggled to break down a team which defended deep and in numbers. They rarely got to the by-line and created few chances in open play. There is clearly a lot to do to restore the team's confidence and fluidity before Poland come to Wembley for England's next European Championship match in March.

Hoddle remained upbeat, saying: "The first half I was very pleased. The second half wasn't good enough. We had the passion and drive and we've got three points on the board. I don't know if it will quell the criticism. We just came for three points and got them, which is the important thing."

The debate over Hoddle's future will continue to rage until England either win handsomely against Poland, or he goes. Meanwhile, with Sweden winning 1-0 in Bulgaria last night, England now trail the Swedes and the Poles by two points having played a game more.

Hoddle made four changes from the team held to a goalless draw by Bulgaria on Saturday. Two were enforced, David Beckham returning for the suspended Jamie Redknapp and Phil Neville coming in for the injured Andy Hinchcliffe. Two others were designed to improve the team's cohesion, David Batty returning for Rob Lee and Rio Ferdinand replacing Gary Neville.

Both Lee and Gary Neville had been among the few decent performers on Saturday and so the changes seemed harsh, especially as Ferdinand was not played as a sweeper.

In the event, that change could be said to have worked as Ferdinand, who spent much of the game in midfield, was one of England's most constructive players.

The man who did operate in the centre of defence, Southgate, had a nightmare start, misjudging a back-header to David Seaman after just five minutes. Marcel Christophe stole in to be brought down by the onrushing Seaman. Fortunately for England, Dany Theis blasted the kick over the bar. Hoddle, who admits to being superstitious, must have thought it was a signal that his luck had changed.

Luxembourg had already demonstrated their limitations, making the sort of hash at defending a short-corner routine that would make Sunday morning sides ashamed. They also allowed David Batty the rare treat of being able to dribble past three men in the box.

Batty's subsequent cross was wasted and Darren Anderton's shot from the corner blocked and, though Beckham had a free-kick saved and Campbell put a header wide, Luxembourg were very much in the game when England scored.

Ferdinand and Anderton moved the ball quickly for Michael Owen, having made a good run, to steer the ball in for his fourth international goal.

England celebrations were cut short as Beckham was harshly booked for handball. He noticeably, and perhaps understandably, faded thereafter.

Luxembourg twice threatened to pouch an equaliser through Patrik Posing, whose shot was blocked by Ferdinand, and Jeff Saibene, who hit the side netting. England reasserted themselves and effectively secured the game five minutes from the break when they won and scored a penalty. Anderton ran into the box, Theis put out a hand and was then given a lesson in the art of successful penalty conversion by Shearer.

The situation seemed perfect for England to stride clear in the second period and release the ability which has been constrained by their fragile confidence since that brace of Swedish goals in Stockholm last month. But it never happened. Beckham and Shearer had half chances but it was not until injury time and a move of rare invention that Southgate was able to thump in a third.

LUXEMBOURG (3-6-1): Koch (F91 Dudelange); L Deville (Union), Strasser (Metz), Funck (F91 Dudelange); Ferron (Beggen), F Deville (Beggen), Saibene (Locarno), Cardoni (Jeunesse), Theis (Jeunesse), Posing (Beggen); Christophe (Mondercange). Substitutes used: Holtz (Beggen) for Theis, 60; Amodio (Jeunesse) for Christophe, 76; Alverdi (Grevenmacher) for F Deville, 84.

ENGLAND (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Ferdinand (West Ham), Southgate (Aston Villa), Campbell (Tottenham); Anderton (Tottenham), Beckham (Manchester Utd), Batty (Newcastle Utd), Scholes (Manchester Utd), P Neville (Manchester Utd); Owen (Liverpool), Shearer (Newcastle Utd) Substitutes used: Lee (Newcastle) for Anderton, 65; Wright (West Ham) for Scholes, 73.

Referee: S Vorgias (Greece).

International football, page 28

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