Football: Shepherd strikes as England ride luck

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England Youth 2 Ivory Coast Youth 1

The embarrassment of slicing a corner Sunday pub league-style yards behind the goal served John Shepherd and England's Under-20 team to useful effect here last night. Not willing to risk more jeers from the crowd, the Leeds midfielder elected to meet the next corner in preference to taking it.

The outcome was that Shepherd slipped his marker to head England's 68th- minute winner from a corner delivered by Ritchie Humphreys, who had come on as a substitute only seconds earlier. But England's victory in their opening Group F tie at the Coca-Cola World Youth Championships was anything but satisfactory.

With any other fortune going, the Ivory Coast would have atoned for their failure to win a single game in their three previous visits to this competition with a resounding success. They tore England apart with a flurry of bewitching moves during the first half when Souleymane Cisse's equaliser was the least they deserved.

England's best player was Michael Owen, the Liverpool forward who, at the age of 17, confirmed he has nerves of steel. Calmly waiting for Serge Gogoua to finish protesting that his fifth-minute foul on James Carragher, also from Liverpool, was outside the area, he then, unerringly, dispatched the penalty.

Somehow England resisted the subsequent onslaught until the 22nd minute when David Lucas completely missed Serge Die's corner which was nodded past him by Cisse. Thereafter England rode their luck. With John Curtis, the captain, restoring some composure to an overworked defence the Ivorians eventually tired on a pitch that had taken an earlier soaking from a tropical thunderstorm.

England found they had just the man, or rather the puny youth in Owen to relieve the pressure. And when he broke away again to force a corner, his team capitalised. But there was still time for Dja Ettien to inspire the Africans to one last unavailing rally. It can only get easier tomorrow for England when the United Arab Emirates, who were overwhelmed 5-0 by Mexico in the opening game, provide the opposition.

ENGLAND (3-5-2): Lucas (Preston); Wallwork (Man Utd), Curtis (Man Utd), Broomes (Blackburn); Shepherd (Leeds), Morris (Chelsea), Carragher (Liverpool), Easton (Watford), Dyer (Ipswich); Murphy (Crewe), Owen (Liverpool). Substitutes: Jackson (Leeds) for Easton, h-t; Humphreys (Sheff Wed) for Murphy, 67.

IVORY COAST (1-3-4-2): Traore; D Mariko; Gogoua, Cisse, Tidiane; N'Da, S Mariko, Kieta, Die (Soumahoro, 80); Kalou (Ettien, 61), Kamara.

Referee: I Shah (Fiji).