Football World Cup: England suited to winner takes all

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The Independent Online
FACING ARGENTINA is never an easy proposition especially with a place in the World Cup quarter-finals at stake but I am more confident about England's chances going into the knock-out stage than I was about the group games. The first phase is cat-and-mouse, you can lose and still go through, and I think our players are better suited to an environment where winner takes all.

For that reason and because of the splendid way we came back to form against Colombia I am feeling very positive about our chances tonight. Last Friday in Lens produced one of the best England displays I have seen in a long time but my confidence is tempered by the respect I hold for our opponents as a footballing nation.

Argentina are capable of beating anyone in the world and have shown so far in this tournament what a well-organised, hard-working outfit they are. They also possess enough individual talent to swing a game their way. In two of their matches they have only done just enough to win but they are capable of raising their game in an instant and the way they steamrollered Jamaica shows what they are capable of if you give them the time and the space.

The Argentina side that beat us in 1986 probably had greater individual players but this is a better team. That makes it hard for England because with one outstanding individual you can always make contingency plans to snuff him out. With a team of 11, players who are similar in ability, it becomes more difficult.

I was on the bench for that infamous quarter-final in Mexico City, having been sent-off in the group fixture against Morocco. The view from the dug-out in the Azteca Stadium was not very good and I must admit it wasn't clear to me at the time that Maradona had handled although it soon became obvious from the reaction of the England players out on the pitch that something untoward had happened.

I agree with Glenn Hoddle that we felt more aggrieved at the Tunisian referee that day rather than Maradona. The official was there to do a job and he did not carry it out as he should have done. However there was no arguing about Maradona's second goal which is up there among the best I have ever seen, to run that distance and beat off the challenge of four or five exceptionally good players was just sensational. When it went in you could only stand and applaud the guy.

We must now forget about the events of 12 years ago and focus in on tonight's game. If we are as resolute in our defensive duties as we were against Colombia then it will take us a long way towards coming out on top and booking a place in the last eight.

We allowed the Colombians to make their 15 passes or so in their own half and concentrated on shutting them down as soon as they stepped into our half of the field. We stopped balls getting into our back three and cut down on their forward momentum; the biggest difference compared with the performance against Romania when we allowed the likes of Hagi and Ilie too much room to make their passes.

It annoys me when people said we had nothing to beat against Colombia. If they looked useless it was because of the way England set about them. They could not compete with us physically or mentally, tactically or temperamentally and that was a tribute to our lads.

We will obviously have to keep a close eye on the likes of Batistuta and Ortega, the two obvious match-winners in the Argentine line-up. They tend to leave Ortega spare to fill the spaces around Batistuta and he is quite dynamic when running with the ball, not the terrific pace and strength that hallmarked Maradona's game but very impressive nevertheless.

I also like Veron who is wonderful passer of the ball and like David Beckham can hit them long and short. Almeyda is their holding midfield player and all through they are a tremendously disciplined and hard-working side. There will be some fascinating match-ups all over the field and off it as well because both Daniel Passarella and Glenn Hoddle were magnificent international players.

I don't expect Glenn to do anything different for this game, he named a team to beat Colombia and he will obviously be going out to win this game. It has been suggested that we use man-markers to clamp down on the Argentine dangermen but they are very clever at dealing with that and can drag you all over the place.

Michael Owen will partner Alan Shearer again and hopefully he will have the chance to use his exceptional pace against their back four. Against Colombia Shearer showed that he is coming back to his old self after his terrible injury.

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