Football: Scholes and Wright put Italy in shade

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The Independent Online
England 2 Italy 0

A low-key friendly on the French Atlantic coast is a long way from a passionate night in Rome, but England will now travel to Italy full of belief when they determine their World Cup destiny in October.

Last night they followed victory in Poland with a richly deserved and thoroughly convincing success over Italy, England's first for 20 years. It may not be relevant to the 11 October encounter, but it will not do England any harm.

Moreover, while the Italian team was almost identical to the one that defeated England at Wembley in February, the England XI looked more like a reserve side. Only four survived from Wembley and, more pertinently, only five remained from Poland and four from Euro 96. One of the absent was Alan Shearer. England have proved to the world, and themselves, that they can win without their inspiring captain.

But it is not just October they can look forward to with confidence, it is to the French World Cup next summer and beyond. For last night, amid the concrete curves of La Beaujoire stadium, one star was born and another confirmed. Paul Scholes and David Beckham, both 22, glittered in the night, eclipsing even Gianfranco Zola. Scholes made the first goal - which was expertly taken by the enduring Ian Wright - and scored the second. Beckham, granted a place on the central midfield stage, strode it with the arrogance of the greats. Cesare Maldini, who had suffered the first defeat of his reign, hailed "a great England side - but we will see you in Rome''.

Hoddle said: "The overall performance was the most pleasing. I thought we showed a lot of maturity and had the balance right between maturity and youngsters. We have to be delighted with the way we played, and the result.

"It was a different type of game to the Poland game, that is for sure. This was in a neutral stadium and I think the French crowd really enjoyed us. There were times when they certainly got their money's worth."

Hoddle singled out Scholes for a special mention. "I did not put any pressure on the boy, but you always give youngsters their head and he has taken his opportunity very well," the manager added.

Italy's greater cohesion - only the injured Paolo Maldini was absent from the Wembley side - earned them control at first. The Chelsea partnership of Roberto di Matteo and Zola was particularly fruitful, with each creating chances for the other. But Di Matteo, after turning inside Martin Keown, was halted by a crunching tackle from Stuart Pearce and never recovered.

Italy's fluency departed with him and England became pre-eminent. They had nimble feet and bright minds and it soon became clear that England had more men with ideas than an Italian side heavily reliant on Zola's genius.

A reprise of an old Tottenham corner routine gave Teddy Sheringham the chance to test Angelo Peruzzi from Beckham's cross, then Scholes was betrayed by his height as he attempted to finish a slick move by Beckham and Phil Neville. Even so, the effort brought warm applause from a decent crowd and further heartened England.

Then Scholes brought the crowd to their feet with a beautifully executed ball over the top. Hit from inside his own half, it curled over Ciro Ferrara and Wright and bounced on the `D' of the area. Before it hit the turf again Wright, having outpaced the Juventus defender, volleyed left-footed past Peruzzi.

Seventeen minutes later Pearce found Wright on the inside-left channel, he cut the ball back and Scholes thumped it past Peruzzi. The goals were deserved for, in between them, there was much good play, with Ince and Sheringham also prominent.

The second half, with rain teeming down and England content to defend, was less dramatic but still satisfying. After the early scares the defence, though less comfortable on the ball, was largely untroubled. Only a tapped free-kick by Dino Baggio, which he saw late, and a Keown back-pass which he scrambled clear of Pierluigi Casiraghi, tested Tim Flowers in his first game for a year.

The only downside was a series of bookings, for Beckham, Scholes, Ince and Paul Gascoigne. He had arrived late on to great acclaim. Gascoigne's reputation obviously remains high in Western France but, in years to come, last night's spectators are more likely to recall the promise of Scholes and Beckham than a valedictory appearance by Gazza.

ENGLAND (3-5-2): Flowers (Blackburn Rovers); Keown (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); P Neville (Manchester United), Ince (Internazionale), Beckham (Manchester United), Scholes (Manchester United), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers); Sheringham (Tottenham), Wright (Arsenal). Substitutes: G Neville (Manchester United) for Le Saux, h-t; Cole (Manchester United) for Wright, 76; Gascoigne (Rangers) for Sheringham, 78).

ITALY (3-5-2): Peruzzi (Juventus); Ferrara (Juventus), Costacurta (Milan), Cannavaro (Parma); Di Livio (Juventus), Di Matteo (Chelsea), Albertini (Milan), D Baggio (Parma), Bennarivo (Parma); Zola (Chelsea), Casiraghi (Lazio). Substitutes: Fuser (Lazio) for Di Matteo, 17; Nesta (Lazio) for Ferrara, h-t; Maini (Vicenza) for Di Livio, h-t.

Referee: M Renko (Austria).

Sheringham's snub to pounds 4m, page 29

Tournoi de France

P W D L F A Pts

England 1 1 0 0 2 0 3

Brazil 1 0 1 0 1 1 1

France 1 0 1 0 1 1 1

Italy 1 0 0 1 0 2 0

Remaining fixtures: 7 June: France v England (Montpellier). 8 June: Brazil v Italy (Lyon). 10 June: England v Brazil (Paris). 11 June: France v Italy (Paris).