Football: Scholes is the soul of the party

Fowler stakes his claim for the World Cup in France as Hoddle's hopefuls put on a pleasing show England 2 Scholes 45, Fowler 45 Cameroon 0 Attendance: 46,176
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The Independent Online
Rome on a fevered Saturday night last month was all grit and grindstone; a misty and moist Wembley last night was all ball-players and back-heels. But though out of the heat of battle, England still suggested promise for more significant occasions ahead with a pleasing and competent enough performance.

Two goals in two minutes just before half-time from the lively partnership of Paul Scholes and Robbie Fowler were enough to see off a subdued Cameroon, who might even have been buried under several more goals with sharper England finishing, and but for a vigilant goalkeeper in Vincent Ongandzi.

While it thus would not do to overstate England's potential,there was encouragement for them from the first of their six warm-up matches for the World Cup finals. "We had a nice mentality and temperament," said the England coach Glenn Hoddle. "We passed well and there were only a couple of 50- or 60- yard passes. We played 10- to 15-yard passes instead, which left them vulnerable."

With Ian Wright rested as one of six changes from the team which claimed that epic draw against Italy, Fowler was clearly being given the chance to establish himself as at least understudy to the injured Alan Shearer. It was a more confident appearance than his last, against Mexico last March. He also scored then, but last night he might have had a hat-trick.

Just behind Fowler in that deep-lying position usually occupied by his club-mate Teddy Sheringham, Scholes stealthily posed problems all night for the Africans as he insinuated himself into their defence with a series of darting runs and probing passes. How well Manchester United prepare young players for each step up the ladder.

Then there was Rio Ferdinand, making his debut as a substitute after a first-half injury to the unfortunate Gareth Southgate, who is likely to be out for up to three weeks after turning ankle ligaments. With some timely tackling and one leggy run, the lad from the East End manor looked born to this one.

It was all held together by the captain, Paul Ince, with another commanding performance from just in front of the back three, and a sprightly Paul Gascoigne, who revelled in the time and space he was allowed. The only worry again was how he tired - and was withdrawn - as the game entered its last quarter.

Perhaps it was the sight of Gary Lineker as guest of honour being presented to the teams that inspired England and demoralised Cameroon. He had, after all, scored the winning goal against them in the World Cup quarter-final of 1990 and both goals in the 2-0 win at Wembley the following year.

Taking the lead and receiving splendid service from Ince, Fowler was especially prominent at the outset. He had the ball in the net in the ninth minute after Ongandzi had pushed the recalled Andy Hinchcliffe's cross out to Scholes, but was clearly offside in the six-yard box as the ball was knocked back in.

There was an indifference to much of the work from the Indomitable Lions, who are working towards the African Nations' Cup in February as well as the World Cup finals. Clearly they had talent, though, as their best move of the first half showed, the captain Rigobert Song sending in a decent cross from the right and Patrick Mboma turning the ball back across goal, where the promising Joseph-Desire Job failed to connect properly.

For a while England's rhythm was disturbed by the injury to Southgate, but all of a sudden a marvellous run by Gascoigne changed the complexion of the match. On and on he moved from the half-way line, past four Cameroon players, before supplying Scholes. Two more defenders, sweeper Raymond Kalla and Samuel Ipoua, converged on him but he stayed on his feet, and as the ball broke to him and Ongandzi committed himself, Scholes cleverly clipped the ball over the keeper and into the net.

The Africans were in disarray and England were quickly two ahead. Ince spread the ball wide to David Beckham on the right and his cross was met firmly eight yards out by Fowler, who planted a header into the net.

England began the second half where they left off in the first and Scholes, set free by a recalled Steve McManaman (who was taking time to rediscover his international feet), forced Ongandzi into a good save at his near post. Fowler also shot over the bar after Ferdinand strode out of defence with the ball, played a one-two with Gascoigne and sent him clear.

With some sharp tackles at the other end, Ferdinand and Sol Campbell interrupted embryonic moves by Cameroon, who were also receiving little from the referee. Only in the dying embers, from Geremi Njitap's low drive, was Nigel Martyn called into action.

England might have made the margin more emphatic, Ongandzi saving from Fowler's cross-shot and Ince striking the bar with a scissors kick. If Fifa are to seed next month's World Cup finals draw on current rankings, however, England had already done enough to consolidate theirs with a satisfactory result to mirror their performance.

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