Football: Hoddle's selection vindicated by performance

Despite poor opponents, a professional display and a solid victory have got England's campaign off to a fine start
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The Independent Online
THE ENGLAND lads will be desperate now to get out on the field again for the second game with Romania. They will be so elated at the way they launched their campaign that the other games can't come quickly enough. It's a shame they have a whole week to wait, but we shouldn't be sidetracked by negative thoughts at this time as we look back on a job well done.

I thought England started nervously and were slow to impose themselves, but that was probably only to be expected. It is a huge stage on which to perform and the pressure has been building for the game against Tunisia throughout an awfully long preparatory period.

However, once Alan Shearer put us ahead near half-time England showed a lot more of what they can do and thereafter always looked comfortable and in control. Tunisia had a good five-minute spell when they saw a lot of the ball, but they were never able to sustain any threat around David Seaman's goal.

Every member of the side played their part in a performance that will have been a great comfort to Glenn Hoddle. I had the privilege of being in the Stade Velodrome and I was watching him during the game as he jumped up and out of his seat a great deal. The coach has had to make some big decisions over recent weeks and this win will have meant a lot to him.

His personnel selections over which so much newsprint has been devoted these past few days all came off for him. Darren Anderton won the vote over David Beckham because Glenn would have been swayed by his ability to get forward quicker and to put over those deadly crosses from within that dangerous 18-yard region, the penalty area line extended to the touchline. I thought Darren also coped with the defensive part of his game pretty well.

Paul Scholes was a revelation and showed the benefit of having a player tucked in behind the front two who is a positive thinker and who is always trying to get on the end of things in the area. On another day he would have grabbed a hat-trick, his failure to snap up those two first-half chances a sign of the nerves that seemed to intrude on England's play during the first 40 minutes. His goal was worth waiting for and marks him out as a player suited to the higher demands of football at this level.

Teddy Sheringham might also have scored with a wonderful dipping volley that Chokri El-Ouaer did very well to get a hand to. He did some good things in the game and has been a little unfortunate that Michael Owen burst on to the scene in such an explosive fashion and threatened his place. Teddy showed in this game what a clever footballer he is and why Glenn Hoddle rates him so highly.

It was also good management to give Owen a run-out for the last few minutes so he had a feel of what the World Cup is all about. People can tell you about it and you can imagine the occasion in your dreams, but nothing beats the real thing and it was to the young man's credit that he looked comfortable from the start. It will have given his confidence another boost.

Apart from one or two little scares the middle three in defence were very solid and that bodes well, because inevitably at tournaments like this you are going to have to show your defensive mettle. Tony Adams was outstanding and all three of them would have been helped by the solid platform that Paul Ince and David Batty established in front of them. They have played together for some time now and the benefits of their understanding were plain to see.

Those isolated moments of concern were more a case of Tunisia's cleverness than any problem at the back, but generally I thought the African side were poor. There have been some impressive performances so far from teams you would normally label as minnows, but this wasn't one of them. Their final ball often let them down and the stunts they pulled by going down at every opportunity was not good to see.

The England squad will have flown back to their headquarters in La Baule after the game, enjoying a meal together and reflecting on a job well done. It will have been nice for them to leave the heat of Marseilles behind and also all the trouble that broke out there, because as much as you try to stay professional and concentrate on the game to the exclusion of everything else, it can't help but make an impact on you.

I must say, though, having flown over for the game with some friends that the environment around the stadium before the game was fantastic. All the England supporters that I saw were impeccably behaved and it seems all the problems came from those without tickets, whether they were English, Tunisian or French.

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