Football: 'Now we've got to show the real bulldog spirit in Bulgaria'

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The Independent Online
EVEN FOR one of nature's optimists England's manager, Kevin Keegan, was left clutching at the thinnest of straws blowing in the wind and rain of Wembley after yesterday's abject performance. To his great credit, he still managed to muster a smile as he offered his analysis of the afternoon's events.

"I thought at half-time we couldn't play much worse, but within a minute of the second half we were down to 10 men and up against it. Graeme Le Saux had to come off because he's had a bit of a virus and was having a job breathing, so there was a lot of readjusting to do. In the end I was starting to think a draw might not be a bad result. It was one of those days.

"It was disappointing because we needed to win today. To be perfectly honest, no excuses, we never really got going and I can't give a reason for that. We never played at the pace we'd been talking about doing. Of course, we knew the opposition would be resilient and they made it difficult for us."

Like most observers, Keegan had no complaints about the two yellow cards shown to Paul Scholes. "I've no argument with it," he said. "I'm not annoyed with him or anything; he's a sparky little player who wants to win. I think had the referee known he'd already booked him, he might have been lenient, but that wouldn't have been following the rules. That's his game, he's tenacious, and as the surface got greasier, you had to time it right. With the new rules, he won't be the last England player to be sent off at Wembley. With the rules as they are, you just can't afford to make mistakes like that."

As for the group position, the manager believes that little has changed with this result. "It was always going to be the same going to Bulgaria on Wednesday. Nothing's changed really. Except that we need to win it. It's the play-offs at best now and we've got some work to do to get there. Obviously we've now got to show the real bulldog spirit in Bulgaria. We've taken a bit of a knock. We're down but not out."

Neither Keegan nor his captain, Alan Shearer, wanted to use fatigue at the end of a long season as an excuse for the performance, though Shearer said: "After starting well in the first few minutes we looked as if we had heavy legs. We should have played better, but the spark wasn't there for some reason. We never really looked like scoring. You don't get anything off Sweden at the best of times and now it looks as if it's going to have to be the play-offs and winning games all the way or we are in trouble."

The Swedes seemed surprised that they had enjoyed such an easy time of it all afternoon. "I didn't have anything to do during the whole game," said Coventry City's goalkeeper, Magnus Hedman. "We knew they were going to start very brightly, especially in the first 15 or 20 minutes of each half, and that we had to keep it tight.

"I was surprised England didn't make many chances, but with the defence I've got in front of me it's easy to be a goalkeeper. We're not there yet, but one more victory and we'll be very close."