FOOTBALL: Hoddle faces two-pronged problem

COMMENTARY: Euro 2000: England undermined by faulty formation fronted by dynamic duo as Swedes sweep through their ranks
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IT WAS not just England's European Championship prospects which were put in jeopardy on Saturday evening, it was also the future of England's new dream attack. Though Tommy Soderberg, Sweden's coach, underlined football's essential simplicity by describing his winning tactics as "boom, boom, swap, swap", the game is not so simple that it is just a case of throwing the best players together.

Much as happened six years ago, when Graham Taylor's turnips were uprooted in the same Stockholm stadium, England were outplayed by a team which moved both ball and bodies with greater fluidity, imagination and pace to earn their 2-1 victory. "Everybody was talking about Michael Owen but we have fast players too," said Lars Lagerback, Soderberg's assistant.

Fleet of thought as well as foot. From the moment Soderberg told Anders Andersson to make Sweden's twin attack a three-pronged one England were on the back foot. The central defenders were dragged out of their comfort zones while the wing-backs were drawn into becoming full-backs. As a result England lost their attacking width, leaving Owen and Alan Shearer isolated.

This has happened before, most notably in Switzerland, and if Glenn Hoddle persists with a 3-5-2 formation it raises serious questions about the potency of this much-heralded partnership.

England's next difficult away match is not until next summer, in Bulgaria, but before then Glenn Hoddle must find a solution to the problem which threatens to negate the apparent boon of having two outstanding forwards available at the same time.

At international level the best partnerships - Lineker and Beardsley, Shearer and Sheringham - have been those of spearhead and link man, scorer and provider. Ferdinand and Shearer, Hateley and Lineker, did not succeed.

One reason for this is pin-pointed in Tony Adams' autobiography Addicted, which is published today. He writes: "You couldn't play [Shearer and Lineker] together because they would take each other's space and be rendered ineffective." Owen, with his movement, finishing and pace, is not dissimilar to Lineker.

Yet the danger of him and Shearer getting in one another's way is only half the problem. The other, in the modern arena, is the concentration on the midfield numbers game. If you play two up away from home, when you are inclined to defend deeper, the team becomes stretched out with the result that, as on Saturday, forward service becomes limited to long balls from the back. The solution was to play Paul Scholes behind the front two but with the wing-backs pushed back he could not afford to get forward, as that would have left Paul Ince and Jamie Redknapp overrun in midfield.

Having a deeper player also causes problems for the opposition. It draws a central defender out and also cramps the space available for playmakers like Stefan Schwarz, who was allowed to roam the Rasunda stadium untroubled.

Hoddle was clearly disappointed with the front two's positional play. He said: "There are reasons Michael did not get chances from his side of the coin as well as anyone else's." He added: "Michael and Alan could have done it [their partnership] a lot better and it's something we've got to look at if they are going to play together. I asked one of them to drop off at times but, though we got messages on, for whatever reason it did not happen enough. We have got to look at the pair of them working defensively to put more pressure on the opposition's deep-lying midfield players.

Shearer generally had a decent game. He was clearly pumped up by the pre-match attention on Owen and deserved his goal, scored off the inside of the post after 72 seconds after Scholes had won a free-kick. He might easily have had a penalty when Roland Nilsson chopped him off at the knee in the box in the last minute but Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee, appeared to hold Shearer's delayed and crumpling fall against him.

A penalty then would have been very handy but largely undeserved. Though Darren Anderton started brightly before being injured, Jamie Redknapp had his moments and Sol Campbell was reasonably solid, few of the England players emerged with any credit. David Seaman, in particular, looked sluggish for both of the goals, Adams did not appear fit and Gareth Southgate was unusually impetuous.

He gave away the free-kick from which Anders Andersson equalised after Seaman had parried Schwarz's shot. He and Adams also missed Pontus Kaamark's cross from which Scholes inadvertently set up Johan Mjallby for the winner 129 seconds later. Reflecting on how Seaman, oddly, made himself small by protecting his face as he challenged for the loose ball, Scholes must have thought wistfully of Peter Schmeichel's "starburst" routine.

"Strange" and "silly" goals according to Hoddle but they were a consequence of drawing Sweden on to them. The idea was to create space to counter- attack through Owen, but England's passing was neither quick nor accurate enough to do so. Instead they invited pressure which forces mistakes and, after the buzz of the early goal dissipated, England lacked authority. The passing, Hoddle noted, became "sloppy" though he was unsure whether it was "complacency or lack of technique".

Confidence, perhaps sapped by the recent controversies, or differences with the manager, went quickly and Sweden took advantage. Along with Schwarz and Celtic's Henrik Larsson, Fredrik Ljungberg, the part-timer from Halmstad stood out. It was no surprise to hear the 21-year-old is thought bound for Barcelona.

Hoddle's other concern was the indiscipline. "We picked up too many bookings through rash tackles," he said. The worst offender was Ince, who was justifiably dismissed after 64 minutes and will be banned for at least one match.

After his exit, England showed their customary pluck and might have stolen a draw through Graeme Le Saux or Shearer's penalty claim. That, however, would merely have prolonged the false impression left by the heroic defence of St Etienne.

Goals: Shearer (2) 0-1; A Andersson (30) 1-1; Mjallby (32) 2-1.

SWEDEN (4-1-3-2): Hedman (Coventry City); Nilsson (Coventry City), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (Valencia), Kaamark (Leicester City); Schwarz (Valencia); A Andersson (Newcastle United), Mjallby (AIK Stockholm), Ljungberg (Halmstad); Petterson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Larsson (Celtic).

Substitutes: Lucic (IFK Gothenburg) for Kaamark, 82; D Andersson (Malmo) for A Andersson, 90.

ENGLAND (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Southgate (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal), Campbell; Anderton (both Tottenham), Ince (Liverpool), Scholes (Manchester United), Redknapp (Liverpool), Le Saux (Chelsea); Owen (Liverpool), Shearer (Newcastle United). Substitutes: Lee (Newcastle United) for Anderton, 42; Merson (Middlesbrough) for Campbell, 74; Sheringham (Manchester United) for Scholes, 86.

Referee: P Collina (Italy).

Sending off: England: Ince. Booked: Sweden: Schwarz. England: Owen, Ince, Redknapp.

Attendance: 35,394.

Man of the match: Schwarz.