Football: Nicholls sets youngsters on the slide: Venables given rude awakening as French demolish champions

France Under-2. .13

England Under-2. 10

TERRY VENABLES suffered one of his first setbacks here last night in his capacity as England coach when his Under-21 team, competing in the Toulon tournament, suffered a sound beating at the hands of their French hosts two days after beating the Russians.

England, bereft of ideas and inspiration, suffered such a heavy defeat that their progress to the later stages of this competition is in doubt. They must beat the United States in Arles tomorrow to be certain of reaching the semi-finals but, as recent history tells us, that is anything but a formality.

As well as losing to the Americans in the US Cup last year at senior level, England also suffered a defeat to them at this level five years ago.

Although since then England have won this tournament three times out of four, they looked anything but champions in the charming De Lattre Stadium where the French were on their way from the first minute.

Alan Nicholls, deputising in goal for Paul Gerrard who has flown home with a knee injury received in training, had only touched the ball once (from a back pass) in his first international when he brought down Florian Maurice. Johan Micoud tucked away the penalty.

England's fortunes did not improve, Olivier Baudry curling an exquisite shot from 35 yards past Nicholls, who shortly afterwards was harshly penalised for fielding a back pass.

The entire England team could do nothing, however, to prevent Samassi Abou hammering the ball into the roof of the net.

FRANCE UNDER-21 (1-4-3-2): Coupey (St Etienne); Dorado (Paris St-Germain); Candela (Toulouse), Terrier (Metz), Laville (Lyon), Bonnissel (Montpellier); Baudry (Sochaux), Micoud (Cannes), Pires (Metz); Abou (Lyon), Maurice (Lyon). Substitutes: Vairelles (Nancy) for Maurice, 67; Djetou (Strasbourg) for Coupey, 84.

ENGLAND UNDER-21 (4-3-3): Nicholls (Plymouth Argyle); Makin (Oldham Athletic), Nethercott, Campbell (both Tottenham Hotspur), Gordon (Crystal Palace); Fear (Wimbledon), Redknapp (Liverpool), Bart- Williams (Sheffield Wednesday); Sinclair (Queens Park Rangers), Fowler (Liverpool), Dyer (Crystal Palace). Substitutes: Eadie (Norwich City) for Fear, 60; Matteo (Liverpool) for Gordon, 77; Selley (Arsenal) for Bart-Williams, 77.

Referee: V Pereira (Portugal).

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