Football: World Cup - Time to exploit the mobility of Beckham

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND ARE backed up against a wall after the Romania defeat but that is when you tend to see the best of us and I am only expecting a positive reaction from tonight's game with Colombia in Lens and a result to take us through into the second round.

In Mexico in 1986, we faced a similar situation going into our last group game - after a defeat and a draw to Portugal and Morocco respectively, spirits were low but a draw in the final group fixture against Poland would have proved sufficient to send us through. As things turned out Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick inside 34 minutes and qualification was never in doubt.

I was worried about the threat from the Romanians before Monday's game and, unfortunately, those fears were borne out. If you allow players like the midfielder Gheorghe Hagi a split second they will punish you and, in Dan Petrescu, they possess one of the best finishers in the Premiership despite the fact that he is a defender. Petrescu is ice cool; he just does not miss the target.

It is vitally important when you are playing a side who likes to keep the ball that you don't allow them to get in behind you. Colombia will be more to our liking because, although they also try to keep possession, they like to pass it around in front of you and that gives you time to get the covering players back.

Even though a draw will be enough to take England into the knock-out phase, I think we will be going all out to win the game. It is just not in the English psyche to play for a draw.

Colombia have some good quality individuals but as a collective unit they have been disappointing so far. Their game with Tunisia was abysmal, at least from a coach's point of view, because the defending was so poor. It was a great contest for the neutral because it could have ended up 6-5, and that was just at half-time!

Carlos Valderrama is a world-class talent but, at 36, he may be just too old. He can play people in but he no longer bothers to defend. In fact, for defensive midfield duties, they just seem to leave Harold Lozano on his own and tell him to get on with it.

They have two monsters at the back, Jorge Bermudez and Ever Palacios who ought to be good at getting the ball away, but it doesn't matter whether you are 6ft 5in or 5ft 2in, if you go to sleep at the back and are caught ball-watching you will get punished. With England's ability on set-pieces we can definitely take advantage.

The showing of the South American sides so far in this tournament has been good, with Brazil and Argentina justifying their reputations among the favourites to win the World Cup and Chile and Paraguay also emerging into the second phase. However, I wouldn't put Colombia in the same class as those sides.

I would have been more worried had Faustino Asprilla not thrown his tantrum and been expelled from the squad. I rate him enormously as a player and he seems to be one of those rarities - a striker who is happy playing up front on his own. Because of his experiences with Newcastle, he would have known the players he was up against tonight and would possibly have been fired up to put in a really good performance. The England defenders will be more comfortable knowing he is not going to be around.

For all Asprilla's attributes he seems to have a strange mentality and last week's bust-up with the coach was not the first time there has been an upset involving him. When he apologised and pleaded to be allowed back into the camp that made it difficult for the coach, but you can't have a situation where one individual is disrupting the atmosphere no matter how important that player is.

I am certain Michael Owen will start the game because when he came on the other night his hunger and readiness for the challenge was obvious. He has genuine pace and that will frighten the Colombians yet I do feel for Teddy Sheringham and also for Darren Anderton because it has been hard for them with the public clamour to include both Owen and David Beckham.

If we can deliver more quality crosses into the box then either Alan Shearer can get on the end of things or Michael can seize on the knock- downs. That was another thing that really impressed me about the Romanians, they were very good at preventing the ball from arriving into the box and, therefore, much of the supply to Shearer was neutralised.

I don't think we should risk Paul Ince if there is any chance that his injured ankle will go again and possibly put him out of the rest of the tournament. In any case, it will be no bad thing to involve Beckham from the start, he lends creativity to the midfield and gives us more mobility.