Football: World Cup - England's tempo of truimph

Group G: Sparkling performance by Hoddle's team destroys Colombia and sets up second-round tie against Argentina
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The Independent Online
SO TO Argentina in St Etienne on Tuesday and the renewal of an old World Cup rivalry. England overcame the anxiety that surrounded their attempt to qualify for the second phase of the finals by beating Colombia here last night with a much improved performance.

Colombia had neither the spirit nor the organisation to give England the sort of problems they experienced when losing to Romania. Last Monday's defeat had raised doubts over their ability to qualify for the next phase, but Glenn Hoddle's team were soon able to establish a far more purposeful tempo than in Toulouse.

A draw would have been enough to see England through, but their football in the first half had a lot of the ambition that Hoddle has been seeking while maintaining greater security than they did against the Romanians.

Colombia did not arrive in France as one of the favourites as they were in the United States four years ago and a further outbreak of dissension in their camp had led to the expulsion of Tino Asprilla, who was back in his homeland by the time of last night's match.

Much easier to dispossess than the Romanians, Colombia showed plenty of ability on the ball and tried to build their attacks in groups. However, they lacked the nous that Romania had shown in keeping the ball from England for long periods.

Understandably nervous at the start, England soon established a rhythm and were far more successful at breaking up attacks before their goal could be threatened by well-supported movements.

The inclusion of Michael Owen as Alan Shearer's attacking partner not only gave England a more threatening look but the threat of his pace meant that neither of Colombia's central defenders could afford to step out and supplement the midfield if it was suddenly outnumbered.

Most of England's attacks developed along the right and although Colombia tried to slow the game down the absence of a player on the left side of their midfield meant that Darren Anderton could be found with crossfield passes that stretched the defence.

England's best chance of taking the lead came after 18 minutes when Graeme Le Saux, supporting along the left, found himself in a shooting position, but a lack of conviction meant that the ball went harmlessly wide of Farid Mondragon's left-hand post. Two minutes later, however, England went ahead when Colombia failed to clear a centre far enough from their goalmouth, leaving Anderton to come in and drive the ball into the roof of the net.

Settled by this success England began to play with more conviction and collective purpose, although their passing was often as careless as it was against Romania. On the plus side there was a lot more movement in attack and by pressing early on the ball England were able to break up most of Colombia's attacks before they could develop.

If there was occasionally a hint that England's defensive system of three centre-backs was not working entirely to Hoddle's satisfaction, it looked more solid than it had earlier in the week.

Colombia were not the most convincing of units, often too stretched between defence and attack to suggest that they could maintain any real momentum, but England's efforts in the first half could not be faulted. A second goal in the 30th minute more or less put the Colombians in their place, forcing them to become even further stretched.

Probably because of the light ball that is being used in France, this World Cup has not featured many free-kicks worthy of note. However, it looked as though David Beckham had been putting in extra practice when he put England two goals ahead with a strike that cleared the tallest player in Colombia's defensive wall and then found the right hand side of Colombia's net.

Forced to try to save the game with only limited resources, Colombia became more stretched and England should really have gone further in front from a number of openings. Instead they began to lose concentration, failing to exploit the gaps that showed up on both sides of Colombia's defence.

Sol Campbell's role in England's backline allows for opportunies to advance with the ball if there is space in front of them and when exploiting this licence he travelled more than 50 yards, a journey that left Owen with a chance that the goalkeeper struggled to save.

The only real disappointment for Hoddle would have been England's failure to maintain the purposeful play of the first half when Colombia began to look dispirited. So much has been made of Owen's potential that maybe too much was expected of him and he will look back on three wasted chances he would normally expect to take.