Football: World Cup - Midfield must restrict Valderrama's options

Lessons of defeat: England face a testing task to overcome Colombia with injuries complicating tactical choices
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The Independent Online
I AGREED with Glenn Hoddle when he said that bad defensive goals cost England dear against Romania on Monday night. However I am not as ready as the England coach to put the blame on the defenders; to my mind the problem stemmed from a refusal by the midfield players and wing-backs to get close to their men and prevent them from playing the final pass or cross.

I don't understand the so-called modern game the television commentators go on about, a game when players seem to have time on the ball to look up and consider all their options. There is a thing called pressure that you can apply to the other team but I didn't see the England team apply any to the man on the ball at any stage of the game.

The service to Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham was awful. It was an embarrassment to Sheringham, he did not have a single header at goal and I felt sorry for him.

The other thing I don't understand about the modern game is that if you use two wing-backs flanking three central defenders, the wide men are expected to get up the line and deliver good balls across and still be back to defend in deep positions. You are asking them to be both heart and soul of the team, and it can't be done.

On Monday night we did not see the wing-backs filling those positions where you can deliver decent balls in - in fact I got tired of watching Shearer running down the right flank to fire over crosses when the situation cried out for him to be in the middle, on the end of them.

What also happens is that the opposition have a lot of inviting space down the channels they are only too eager to exploit. Romania did this very well because they are capable of knocking short balls around and then hitting a long pass to someone in space. They deserved their win, or at least they did on the basis of the first three-quarters of the game.

Kevin Keegan has taken some stick for saying that, after Michael Owen's equaliser, there could be only one winner of the game but he was right. It was there for England's taking if they had kept their shape, worked a bit harder and closed down in midfield.

Romania's winning goal was a travesty from England's point of view. It was not even a break from them; Doriel Munteanu picked up the ball in a position of no particular danger 40 yards from goal and our midfield allowed him to have a good look where he wanted to put it. You could see Dan Petrescu, marked by Graeme Le Saux, begin to make his run between the two centre-halves, and for some reason Le Saux stuck with him as though he had been instructed to man-mark. It would surely have been better for Sol Campbell to track the run rather than staying in a sort of left-back position.

The first goal was not really a move at all, it was what I would call a progression; it was a ball that came across and if Campbell had put his head towards it, the referee would probably have awarded England a free-kick for dangerous play. The ball then fell behind Tony Adams and Viorel Moldovan put it away. I wouldn't particularly blame Adams - I wouldn't particularly blame anyone - although Le Saux might have been a bit closer to stop the ball coming across; it was a goal that developed from a series of silly situations.

England's second-half performance was an improvement because we were able to release people from midfield to run at their defence. The introduction of David Beckham helped in that regard and Shearer was able to find a bit more space to try and turn his defender. I don't think the loss of Paul Ince affected us at all - we had no midfield in the first-half anyway.

Still, there was no real service to the front men and only Paul Scholes was able to offer anything resembling support. For that I would blame the way we build up from the back. In many people's eyes I have become a critic of David Batty but I like midfield players to pass the ball forward, into the channels where Shearer and Sheringham can get after the ball and get support from out wide.

I don't see that there is any way that Michael Owen will now not start for England on Friday. It is going to be a nervy affair and my first thought is that I don't want to watch. Colombia use Carlos Valderrama as an old- fashioned midfield link-man who is free of marking duties. When they gain possession they look to feed him and he can do damage with his passing and his movement.

It is helpful to England that Colombia have to win the game while a draw will be enough for us. That means the South Americans will have to come at us and not rely on their normal containing game and quick breaks. I just hope England will learn the lessons of what went wrong against Romania.

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