Football: Portuguese defence frustrate England: Faltering start for Sexton - Scotland pay penalty - Debutant saves Republic's face - Jones regains Wimbledon captaincy

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The Independent Online
England Under-21 0

Portugal Under-21 0

ENGLAND, who have not qualified for the finals of the European Under-21 Championship since they reached the last four in 1988, found their dominance of an inexperienced Portugal side frustrated by a well-organised defence at a thinly populated Filbert Street last night.

Their opponents were disciplined enough to survive 32 minutes with 10 men after the dismissal of Litos, their central defender, for a cynical foul on Julian Joachim, the local favourite, although they benefited from a degree of good fortune.

Dave Sexton's team had chances to begin the new qualifying campaign on a winning note. Poor finishing let them down more than once, but they might also have grounds to grumble with the Italian referee Graziano Cesari's interpretation at key moments.

Twice inside the opening 36 minutes Cesari denied Liverpool's Robbie Fowler a goal. In the first instance he called play back after Jamie Redknapp's quick free kick was put away by his Anfield colleague following a hand-ball by Hugo Costa. Later, he deferred to his linesman when Joachim's pass put Fowler clear, although television replays suggested the flag was raised in error.

There was no benefit for the attacking player there, although Cesari acted absolutely in accordance with the new Fifa guidelines when he sent off Litos, whose premeditated lunge halted Joachim in full flight, preventing a scoring opportunity. England's Steve Watson, however, was allowed to go unpunished when he fouled Peixe with a tackle from behind.

Nelo Vingada, the Portuguese manager, made no apologies for his tactics, which, he said, acknowledged the strength of the England side, eight of whom are established Premier League players. The visitors counter-attacked rarely, allowing Paul Gerrard a quiet night, although the Oldham goalkeeper was relieved, after 69 minutes of frustration for England, when lone striker Bambo's overhead kick rebounded to safety off a post.

Sexton's view was that his side 'can do better'. They will need to if they are to claim the one place in the finals available to the five-team group, in which Portugal may well prove their closest rivals. Certainly, their finishing can improve. But the authority of the captain, Redknapp, in midfield and of Sol Campbell at the back were plus points, while Sinclair and Joachim confirmed their high potential.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Gerrard (Oldham); Watson (Newcastle), Campbell (Tottenham), Unsworth (Everton), Gordon (Crystal Palace); Bart-Williams (Sheffield Wednesday), Redknapp (Liverpool), Joachim (Leicester City), Sinclair (Queen's Park Rangers); Barmby (Tottenham), Fowler (Liverpool). Substitutes: Dyer (Crystal Palace) for Barmby, 71.

PORTUGAL (3-4-2-1): Costinha; Hugo Costa, Litos, Rui Jorge; Andrade, Calado, Peixe, Poejo; Kenedy, Miguel Simao; Bambo. Substitutes: Nuno Afonso for Simao, 64; Vitor Vieira for Bambo, 81.

Referee: G Cesari (Italy).