Football: Shearer the peerless poacher

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The Independent Online
France 0

England 1

Shearer 86

Attendance: 25,000

EXPERT and expansive earlier in the week against Poland and Italy, England were expedient last night against France here. At times rough and too ready to resort to the long ball, they nevertheless recorded another notable achievement against next year's World Cup hosts as they maintained a 100 per cent record to top the table at Le Tournoi.

A third victory in eight days came courtesy of Alan Shearer's 11th goal in his last 11 international matches and extended England's away record under Glenn Hoddle to played five, won five, with no goals conceded. After a first win in Poland for 31 years, a first over Italy for 20, this was England's first success in France for 48 years. The French had previously lost only one game in 35 matches since 1994 under their coach Aime Jacquet.

How Jacquet must yearn for a striker such as Shearer. The French, no shrinking blues themselves, endured some tough early tackling by England to assemble some good attacking movements, but even the muscular presence of the recalled, whole-hearted Christophe Dugarry could not bring them a goal.

At the other end, France confirmed themselves solid once more in defence, but how Shearer is blessed with the knack of finding the right place at the right time. The England captain is now close to averaging a goal every other game, with 16 from 34 appearances. Only 10 minutes remained when Hoddle recreated the old pals' act by substitute Teddy Sheringham for the wasteful Ian Wright. Seven minutes later Shearer played the ball wide on the right to Sheringham and from the low cross, deflected and consequently forcing the French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez to let it slip, Shearer was on hand to touch gleefully home.

"With Alan Shearer in the team, you've always got a chance," said Hoddle. "It was a good, professsional performance of the sort we will need next year if we get here. Winning breeds confidence. It is a question of finding that balance between clean sheets and creating. It's coming together, but we have got to keep our feet on the ground."

For much of the time England had to absorb French pressure, David Seaman rescuing them with some fine saves when a back three in which Gary Neville was mis-matched with Dugarry was breached. Rarely was there the quality, save now and then, from David Beckham, that Paul Scholes had shown against Italy. Too often possession was surrendered.

Hoddle had made six changes from the mid-week side, recalling Paul Gascoigne for his 50th cap. He was mostly anonymous, if tidy, but at least escaped uninjured this time. He was also fortunate not to be punished for a snipe at Patrick Vieira's shins.

Jacquet was even more swingeing in his changes - eight of them - after the 1-1 draw with Brazil and his search for a striking partnership brought together Nicolas Ouedec, rendered ineffectual by Sol Campbell, and Dugarry for the first time.

At least Dugarry provided a more physical presence, shown early on when he headed over the bar Youri Djorkaeff's free kick. It came from one of many fouls England committed in the early stages and they were fortunate to survive as long as the ninth minute without a yellow card. David Batty opened the innings. A caution for Beckham was somewhat more bizarre. Injured by a late tackle from Vieira, he hobbled to the sideline to continue being treated. As he did the referee Said Belquola brandished the card for ignoring instructions to climb on to a stretcher. It meant that Beckham, who was counselled by Gareth Southgate against retaliating when he returned to the field, will be suspended from Tuesday's match against Brazil in Paris.

Dugarry at this stage was proving a handful. First he robbed Southgate, sending in a low shot which Seaman held comfortably, then headed down Laurent Blanc's chip forward only for a fortunate and momentarily bemused England goalkeeper to save with his legs.

It took England 34 minutes to fashion a chance of their own, Barthez saving Shearer's header from Graeme Le Saux's cross. Five minutes later they should have scored. Beckham, his head now back in the game after being disturbed by the earlier incident, played a good through ball to Shearer, just on side, and from his low cross from the left the unmarked Wright seemed certain to score until Barthez diverted the ball over the bar.

With Paul Ince now introduced to pin back the previouslyu influential Didier Deschamps in midfield, England gradually grew and Sheringham's favourite near-post shot from Gascoigne's low corner was deflected just wide. Then came Shearer's coup de grace. Rather than hope, England is beginning to expect for this time next year.

France (4-4-2): Barthez (Monaco); Thuram (Parma), Blanc (Barcelona), N'Gotty (Paris St-Germain), Laigle (Sampdoria); Vieira (Arsenal), Djorkaeff (Internazionale), Deschamps (Juventus), Keller (Karlsruhe); Dugarry (Milan), Ouedec (Espanyol). Subs: Loko (Paris St-Germain) for Ouedec, 63; Zidane (Juventus) for Dugarry, 76; Lizarazu (Athletic Bilbao) for Laigle, 84.

England (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Southgate (Aston Villa), Campbell (Tottenham); P Neville (Manchester Utd), Beckham (Manchester Utd), Gascoigne (Rangers), Batty (Newcastle), Le Saux (Blackburn); Shearer (Newcastle), Wright (Arsenal). Subs: Ince (Internazionale) for Batty, h-t; Lee (Newcastle) for Beckham, 76; Sheringham (Tottenham) for Wright, 80.

Referee: M Said Belqola (Morocco).

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