Football: Valderrama and Hagi are living in the past

Group G: Colombia and Romania offer limited threat as England reflect on their opening victory over Tunisia
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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE will have learned much about the Colombians' ability to deal with the British game from watching tapes of their 2-2 draw with Scotland in America last month. Their defeat against Romania in Lyons on Monday will have served only to underline a few things he already knew. Specifically, if England play to anywhere near their full potential they will breeze past the South Americans.

Carlos Valderrama is still trying to be the fulcrum of every move, but at almost 37 he would be considered a geriatric rather than a veteran in the British game. The proud possessor of world football's dodgiest haircut, the top of his head bears a striking resemblance to a burst sofa; considering he has the mobility to match, his decision to retire from international football after the World Cup looks to be a good one.

Up front Faustino Asprilla is one of those players who is loved by the fans of any team he plays for, but who alternately delights and then infuriates his managers.

For those who have played and trained with him, he remains one of the select band whose skills are talked of in hushed reverential tones. Against Romania he looked the only player capable of causing any real threat to their defence. His work rate was quite exceptional, but the lack of quality support from Valderrama, Freddy Rincon and Harold Lozano made his task of breaking down a solid defence an impossible one. When he was substituted with six minutes to go it looked like an acceptance of defeat rather than a last throw of the dice to retrieve the situation.

It can only be hoped that when they return home to Colombia after the inevitable first round exit the drug cartels will have been betting on them losing for a change.

The Romanians of course can boast one of the last great mavericks still allowed to grace or disgrace the international stage. With more attitude than a posse of Brooklyn MCs, Gheorghe Hagi managed to show almost all the negative characteristics of his breed against Colombia. There was little or no effort to help his team, other than when he was on the ball himself, and by the second half he was more frequently passing to opponents than his own team-mates.

The petulant side of his character dominated and in the end Romania were to all intents and purposes playing with 10 men. Anghel Iordanescu, the coach, finally plucked up the courage to drag him off and Hagi had the nerve to look surprised, even though he was by a long distance the worst player on the pitch.

England will hope that both Valderrama and Hagi will line up against them in the remaining group matches. Neither appear to have the appetite for a fight against an England team who savaged their Tunisian opponents in the first game.

The Romanians did have some solid performers in Dan Petrescu and Gheorghe Popescu, but they look like an ageing team who should also be summarily dismissed by a hungrier pack of English players. Only Adrian Ilie showed that he had something that England will have to be wary of. His goal seconds before half-time will be one of the best, if not the best, in the tournament. His balance, pace and eye for goal were reminiscent of England's own starlet, Michael Owen. He even has a similar build to the young Liverpool striker. However, the organisation and determination of Campbell, Adams and Southgate, should deal with the lone threat from the 24-year-old Valencia forward.

On the basis of the first two games in the group, it looks as though England have had a fairly fortunate draw, but that is to take nothing away from their first performance. They had the look of a team who possessed the desire to win at all costs. Hoddle should be congratulated in spotting the weaknesses in the North African side and preparing his charges suitably. Within the first 20 minutes they had bullied each member of the Tunisian defence and stopped just short of assaulting the goalkeeper. If only their "fans" had shown the same restraint down at the beach.

A win against Romania next Monday and England will be in the very desirable position of being able to rest some players for a game and allow a starting place for the likes of young Owen. On Monday's showing the Colombians would be unlikely to have enough guile to stop him, Shearer or Sheringham, and England could well finish the group with maximum points.

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