Crouch stands tall but leaves England lopsided

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The Independent Online

This is mischief making, of course. Sven Goran Eriksson would never dispense of the one proven goalscorer he has elected to bring to Germany and Owen's history is worthy of more time and respect, but Crouch's search for recognition continued on the right path against Paraguay yesterday afternoon even if the best of his attributes ultimately brought out the worst in England as they looked to the skies with alarming regularity in their opening contest in Group B.

Sharper and more industrious than his partner, who departed after 56 subdued minutes, the Liverpool forward proved a nuisance to the South Americans and England would have prospered more had they remembered that he can also play on the floor or had a player who, like Steven Gerrard at club level, could lurk in anticipation of his accurate distribution from the front. A player like Rooney, in fact.

Awkwardness will always follow the towering 25-year-old from Macclesfield. The stadium announcer forgot the England No 21 was in the starting line-up before the game, only mentioning the striker after commencing a roll-call of the substitutes and even then he managed to get Crouch's number wrong. The 6ft 7in forward was also victim of a practical joke by the organisers too, it seemed, when he was allocated the smallest mascot of any England player to accompany his walk on to the pitch. A lop-sided entrance was the inevitable result.

On this afternoon Crouch could not be pigeon-holed as an afterthought or a figure of fun. The desperation to impress, to show that he belonged on this stage, was evident in the first seconds when he bore down on Deportivo La Coruña's wily midfielder Roberto Acuna at the kick- off. Instantly, England had their opponents on the back foot. By the time Paraguay had wrestled back a semblance of control, they were behind.

Crouch was neither the source or the executioner of the free-kick that presented England with a third-minute lead yet his presence inside a crowded penalty area had the same effect on Paraguay as on Argentina in Geneva last November. Back then the central defenders were so preoccupied with his towering frame that Owen was able to sneak in twice at the near post and profit. Yesterday, the taller of Paraguay's two centre-halves, Julio Cesar Caceres, vacated the flight of Beckham's delivery to track Crouch's run to the back post, leaving Carlos Gamarra to stretch for the dipping ball with disastrous consequence.

Crouch enjoyed a 17cm height advantage over Caceres, 18cm over Gamarra, and that superiority was reflected in amount of second balls he generated, both in the air and, it should be noted, on the floor, although as the game wore on England took the easy option of searching for his head when a more constructive route was required. Once Paraguay grew wise to this obvious tactic, the performance of Eriksson's side deteriorated.

There should have been more lay-offs from the focal point of the attack, but Crouch's failure to accept that he would be penalised by referee Jose Luis Camargo every time he placed one hand on a blue shirt returned possession to Paraguay far too often. It took 39 minutes before the Mexican match official blew in his favour, the ironic cheers indicative of the crowd's sympathy for the plight of a player who worked tirelessly in the team cause and was booked when he took his protests too far in the second half. That was a rare blemish on an otherwise encouraging afternoon for Crouch, but Brazil, Argentina, even Germany, will not be overly concerned yet.

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