Collina's diplomacy allows England to become contenders

Turkey 0 England 0
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The Independent Football

Eventually, backed into a corner by their own intransigence, both the England manager and his team provided the right response. The players, their public support ebbing following last week's petulant brinkmanship, delivered a performance of discipline and resolve to reach next summer's European Championship finals. Sven Goran Eriksson, after weeks of evasiveness, finally said "Yes", he would be in Portugal to manage them.

On the evidence of results, players and manager make a strong combination. In 19 competitive matches Eriksson has overseen one defeat, the World Cup quarter-final loss to Brazil. They will travel together to Portugal in the knowledge that they are contenders.

"I've said many times over the last couple of years that we shouldn't be afraid of any team," Eriksson said. "I can't say we will win it but we're good enough to win it. We're one of a few teams that have that ability. In a real game it's not that easy to beat England any more. We have a very good team when we have very few injured players. But France, Italy and Germany, they're good as well."

The reference to injuries was pertinent. England were without Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen on Saturday, but Ferdinand has been out of form and Owen's absence less critical with only a draw required. To have nine of his preferred XI fully fit and on the pitch would do Eriksson most days. It is better than he had at the World Cup when Steven Gerrard and Gary Neville were absent, David Beckham hobbled and Michael Owen was ultimately lame.

Eriksson is also discovering alternatives with Wayne Rooney and now John Terry emerging. "Terry was absolutely fantastic," said Eriksson. "He and Sol Campbell dealt with all the crosses that came in. Every time Turkey changed something they put on strikers who were taller, taller and taller."

"It was the game of my life, one of the toughest I've ever played in," added Terry, who would not, of course, have played but for Ferdinand's controversial omission.

England will also go to Portugal with the public behind them. With this performance they began the process of regaining the ground they lost last week and by June the strike threat may be forgiven if not forgotten. "We battled and it shows people that we are proud to play for our country," Beckham said. "This is a performance that we can all be proud of. Every one of us out there wants to be there, and always has wanted to be out there."

Beckham and others could face action from Uefa, European football's governing body, after allowing their passion to spill over during a half-time fight in the tunnel. Beckham may also be investigated for his head-butt on Alpay Ozalan after the Aston Villa defender taunted him for his penalty miss. The butt was not a violent one, but another referee, such as Kim Milton Neilsen, who would have officiated but for a thigh injury, might have taken sterner action than Pierluigi Collina. Another referee might also have reacted differently to the tunnel spat which began after Alpay, on his way off the pitch at the break, poked Beckham in the cheek and made an offensive suggestion about his mother.

Beckham chased Alpay into the tunnel and remonstrated with him. Within seconds there were dozens involved, players from both sides, police officers, Uefa officials, stewards, medical and security staff. During the incident Emile Heskey is understood to have rounded on Emre Belozoglu, probably after an offensive remark, and had to be dragged off the Internazionale player.

Collina summoned Beckham and Alpay to his room. Beckham recalled: "He said: 'You need to calm things down. I am not going to let silly things go on in the game and ruin it because this is such a big game. Go into the changing-rooms now and calm things down'."

Beckham afterwards dealt better with other provocations, such as Emre pulling his ponytail and Okan Buruk jabbing his ribs. "I can't do anything about being targeted," he said. "I'm 28 now and if I can't cope with it now I never will. I think I did cope quite well."

The captain was one of only two survivors from the goalless draw in Rome in 1997 which, in similar circumstances, secured England a place in the 1998 World Cup. The other was Campbell whose performance was immense. In Rome he had played a supporting role as Tony Adams marshalled the defence. This time he played the lead, bringing a display of growing maturity from Terry as Hakan Sukur was shackled and his team-mates largely contained. In front of these two, Nicky Butt rarely missed a tackle and Paul Scholes both linked the play and subjugated Tugay Kerimoglu.

England, crucially, made an enterprising start. The Turks, already overawed by playing opponents they have not scored against in 10 meetings, were pressed into committing mistakes, making them more nervous and frustrating the crowd. Their overwhelming support soon became a burden, Emre and Sergen Yalcin being booed for bad passes within 10 minutes. England's contrasting poise was illustrated when Scholes nutmegged Emre.

Though it was an open game, clear chances were rare. Scholes headed Neville's cross over. Rooney, breaking on to a superb ball from Beckham, chipped over Rustu Recber but also the bar. Then, after 35 minutes, Gerrard attacked on the left, beating Fatih Aykel but being tripped by Tugay: penalty. Beckham stepped up, but his left foot slipped as he swung his right and the ball headed into the night sky. It was England's first penalty miss since Gary Lineker's against Brazil in 1992 and Beckham's first failure in six attempts.

There was a sense that the Turks would have folded had it gone in, and they might also have done had Scholes, following on a strong run by Rooney, not rolled the ball just wide. He has now gone 24 internationals without scoring.

Turkey rallied at last. Sergen escaped at the far post, but his header was too weak. Nihat Kavechi, by some distance the best Turkish player, stretched James with a deflected cross.

The half-time kerfuffle, and Pierluigi Collina's lecture, cooled tempers and the game. England eased their way past the hour, Hakan Sukur's comedy dive and the digs at Beckham betraying Turkey's mounting frustration.

Senol Gunes, their manager, panicked. Like Louis van Gaal in Dublin with the Dutch two years ago, he threw on one forward after another without a thought as to who would create their chances. Nihat did prompt a scramble with a shot James half-saved, and some hopeful efforts from the edge of the box worried Eriksson, but England looked sharper with the substitutes Darius Vassell and Kieron Dyer both threatening.

At the end, after the England players had celebrated alone in the centre circle, they were clapped off. Having begun the day resented by English and Turkish fans alike, Eriksson's men had won the respect of both.

TURKEY (4-1-2-1-2): Rustu Recber (Barcelona); Fatih Aykel (Fenerbahce), Alpay Ozalan (Aston Villa), Bulent Korkmaz (Galatasaray), Ibrahim Uzulmez (Besiktas); Tugay Kerimoglu (Blackburn Rovers); Okan Buruk (Internazionale), Emre Belozoglu (Internazionale); Sergen Yalcin (Besiktas); Nihat Kahveci (Real Sociedad), Hakan Sukur (Galatasaray). Substitutes: Sanli Tuncay (Fenerbahce) for Yalcin, 60; Ilhan Mansiz (Besiktas) for Okan, 68; Ergun (Galatasaray) for Emre, 79.

ENGLAND (4-1-2-1-2): James (West Ham Utd); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Campbell (Arsenal), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Arsenal); Butt (Manchester Utd); Beckham (Real Madrid), Gerrard (Liverpool); Scholes (Manchester Utd), Rooney (Everton), Heskey (Liverpool). Substitutes: Vassell (Aston Villa) for Heskey, 68; Dyer (Newcastle Utd) for Rooney, 72; Lampard (Chelsea) for Scholes, 90.

Referee: P Collina (Italy).