Football: Neira's class negates all England's possession

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The Independent Online
England B 1

Chile B 2

Paul Merson's red boots stood out in the Black Country mud in more ways than one at West Bromwich last night, but two goals by Manuel Neira in the final 20 minutes ensured that Chile's understudies did more to underline their World Cup credentials before Emile Heskey's reply in stoppage time.

On the face of it, the outcome represented a disappointing start to England's year. In truth, the result was of less interest to the watching Glenn Hoddle than the performances of some of his fringe candidates for this summer's finals. Ironically, the man with least to prove did most to enhance his claims, although that is not to say that Merson's display was the only plus point.

Darren Huckerby did well in an unfamiliar role alongside Merson in the "hole" between Heskey and midfield, carrying into the international arena the willingness to run at defenders that characterises his club form.

Dominic Matteo distributed the ball intelligently from the back before losing his concentration in the face of some sharp Chilean counter-attacking as England tired.

The first half promised a more productive evening, with Merson behind all England's better moments. Chile's goalkeeper, Carlos Tejas, saved acrobatically to keep out a Heskey flick and twice became a sweeper to clear from the Leicester heavyweight as he pursued Merson through-passes.

Chile had started with Sebastian Rozental, who damaged cruciate ligaments on his Scottish League debut, playing his first game in 12 months. The striker was understandably rusty, but a spate of substitutions injected an element of pace which increasingly exposed a square England back line.

Moments after Heskey had glanced a Huckerby cross inches wide, Chile broke out to take a 70th-minute lead. With England vainly appealing for offside, Neira raced on to a pass by Rodrigo Valenzuela before shooting clinically past Kevin Pressman.

Eight minutes from time, Reinaldo Navia set up the second, and Neira would have finished with a hat-trick had he not fired into the side netting after rounding Pressman.

Heskey, touching home Huckerby's pass, gave England belated reward. Their coach, Peter Taylor, was not unduly disappointed. After praising Merson's contribution as captain, he said: "We played well until they scored, then lost our way. The big lesson at this level is not to give the ball away, though the result doesn't really concern me."

ENGLAND B (3-4-2-1): Pressman (Sheffield Wednesday); Scimeca (Aston Villa), Matteo (Liverpool), Hall (Coventry); Dyer (Ipswich), Parlour (Arsenal), Quashie (Queen's Park Rangers), Wilcox (Blackburn); Huckerby (Coventry City), Merson (Middlesbrough); Heskey (Leicester). Substitutes used: Lampard (West Ham) for Quashie, 34; Guppy (Leicester City) for Dyer, 56; Murray (QPR) for Parlour, 62; Carragher (Liverpool) for Wilcox, 78.

CHILE B (4-1-3-2): Tejas (Coquimbo Unido); Gonzalez (La Serena), Rojas (Universidad de Chile), L Fuentes (Coquimbo), Munoz (Colo Colo); Pena (Audax Italiano); Mirosevic (Universidad Catolica), Gomez (Cobreloa), Cartes (Huachipato); Neira (Colo Colo), Rozental (Rangers, Scotland). Substitutes used: Navia (Wanderers), for Rozental, h-t; Cornejo (Universidad Catolica), Pena, 57; Vivar (Cobreloa) for Mirocevic, 65; Valenzuela (America, Mexico), for Cortez, 65; Olarra (Audax) for Gomez, 71.

Referee: T Mikulski (Poland).