Beckham limps off stage as England fluff their lines

England 1 <i>Owen 22</i> Japan 1 <i>Ono 53</i>
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The Independent Football
Too many lines were fluffed for Sven Goran Eriksson's comfort in the first of England's two dress rehearsals for Euro 2004 last night. Eriksson gave his first choice ensemble 75 minutes here to prove they could enjoy a long run on the Portuguese stage but the opportunity went begging.

Half-time: 1-0 Att: 38,581

Too many lines were fluffed for Sven Goran Eriksson's comfort in the first of England's two dress rehearsals for Euro 2004 last night. Eriksson gave his first choice ensemble 75 minutes here to prove they could enjoy a long run on the Portuguese stage but the opportunity went begging.

The national team failed to build on a 22nd-minute goal by Michael Owen, one of the few players who could be happy with his night's work. Japan, playing neat passing football, thoroughly deserved their equaliser, scored by Feyenoord's Shinji Ono eight minutes into the second period.

Eriksson was also given cause for concern by injuries to David Beckham and Gary Neville and another flash of temper by Wayne Rooney. Beckham wrapped an ice pack on his ankle after being replaced, while Neville took a blow to the thigh. Rooney attempted to strike an opponent.

Japan's last result had been a victory over the highly regarded Czechs in Prague no less, so an English triumph was by no means guaranteed. Not that Eriksson's focus was on the scoreline, it was the performances he was interested in, particularly that of Frank Lampard in the holding role.

Eriksson's sudden conversion to Lampard's claims sparked all manner of conspiracy theories. Was Nicky Butt so off the pace during training in Sardinia that he would be a liability if he played? Or was Eriksson giving Lampard enough rope to hang himself with an unremarkable performance, as he had Alan Thompson in Sweden? Because in truth, if Butt was not up to scratch, Owen Hargreaves or Phil Neville were more obvious contenders for the holding role.

It was soon apparent that whatever Lampard did, it would not be anodyne. His opening burst into the box came after three minutes. By the mid-point of the half he had had two shots, which is more than Butt had managed in press box memory.

By then, however, the diamond, that hardest of nature's minerals, had acquired rather more flexibility than Eriksson would like. One Lampard sally ended with Japan breaking forward and not an English midfielder to be seen. The Japanese attack disappeared down a blind alley. The French may not be so profligate.

Eventually Steven Gerrard twigged that, unlike Butt, Lampard had assumed a roving commission and the Liverpool captain began to take turns as anchor. Lampard, too, settled and began to break up more attacks than he joined. The home mood was also helped by a goal.

England might have been ahead after five minutes. John Terry met Beckham's corner at the near post, Seigo Narazaki was unable to hold on to his header and the ball appeared to bounce over the line before being hacked away by a defender.

The goalkeeper was less fortunate 17 minutes later. Gerrard, seizing on a poor defensive header by Keisuke Tsuboi following a punt forward by John Terry, drove in from the left and delivered a low shot. Narazaki ought to have held it but spilled the ball and Owen swept in to score his 25th goal in 55 appearances.

England should have built on that platform but Japan, with Santos, their naturalised Brazilian, prominent, took control. David James fumbled a shot from Keiji Tamada and parried another from Shumsuke Nakamura. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto put a free header wide at a corner before, from another counter-attack, only a last-ditch tackle by Ashley Cole denied Tamada.

Japan thought they had gained reward a minute from the break when Santos nutmegged Terry and burst into the box only to fall under a challenge from Paul Scholes. Roberto Rosetti waved play on. Many a referee would have given a penalty. Indeed, some might have for an earlier push by Terry at a corner.

There was still time for Eriksson to acquire another worry. Rooney, having tangled with Ono, swung an arm out as he fell and clawed at Ono's chest. Rosetti merely had a quiet word. If it had been a Euro 2004 match, Rooney could easily have been dismissed.

Unusually there were no changes at half-time, in shape or personnel - a sign of the nearness of the Championship. England began more brightly, Lampard shooting over, but it was Japan who scored.

Nakamura released Alex on the left and Ono tucked away his cut-back. It was a beautifully worked, fluid goal, one to roll back the years for Zico, the legendary Brazilian who coaches Japan, but it was a poor one to concede, no player having been pressured by an Englishman.

Owen, whose sharpness was one of the night's more encouraging aspects, almost restored England's lead with some neat skill after running on to Rooney's cleverly angled pass.

Other promising positions proved less fruitful, with Beckham a regular offender when it came to the quality of the final ball. Scholes also had a poor night, his first England goal for three years remaining elusive despite several shooting opportunities.

Instead it was the visitors who looked sharpest, the impressive Nakamura flashing a shot across goal, Ono dipping one just over and Santos troubling James with a fierce drive.

England (4-1-2-1-2): James (Manchester City); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Terry (Chelsea), Campbell (Arsenal), A Cole (Arsenal); Lampard (Chelsea); Beckham (Real Madrid), Gerrard (Liverpool); Scholes (Manchester Utd); Rooney (Everton), Owen (Liverpool). Substitues: Heskey (Liverpool) for Owen, 77; Vassell (Aston Villa) for Rooney, 77; Dyer (Newcastle) for Scholes, 77; J Cole (Chelsea) for Gerrard, 82; Hargreaves (Bayern Munich) for Beckham, 82; Butt (Manchester Utd) for Lampard, 82; P Neville (Manchester Utd) for G Neville, 86; King (Tottenham) for Terry, 88.

Japan (3-4-1-2): Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus Eight); Tsuboi (Urawa Reds), Miyamoto (Gamba Osaka), Nakazawa (Yokohama F Marinos); Kaji (Tokyo); Inamoto (Fulham), Ono (Feyenoord), Santos (Urawa Reds); Nakamura (Reggina); Kubo (Yokohama F Marinos), Tamada (Kashiwa Reysol). Substitutes: Suzuki (Heusden Zonldler) for Kubo, 59; Yanagisawa (Sampdoria) for Tamada, 59; Fukunishi (Jubilo Iwata) for Inamoto, 90.

Referee: R Rosetti (It).