Defoe's calling card of quality has England believing in youth again

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The Independent Football

It wasn't the rampaging announcement that Wayne Rooney made in Portugal a few months ago. It didn't bring a glow to the Polish night sky. But when Jermain Defoe was on the ball, England looked like a team with a little bite and invention again.

It wasn't the rampaging announcement that Wayne Rooney made in Portugal a few months ago. It didn't bring a glow to the Polish night sky. But when Jermain Defoe was on the ball, England looked like a team with a little bite and invention again.

They desperately needed to win here last night and they achieved their ambition, streakily at times, but as the game wore on there was an increasing sense that a crisis may well have passed. Three points were needed to re-establish England's rights of passage in a World Cup qualifying group they appeared to dominate utterly until a few days ago and in the end they came with a little to spare.

The other reality was that in Defoe the embattled coach Sven Goran Eriksson, who some thought, a little exaggeratedly, might go with defeat, has found a beguiling new option as he fights criticism that he is too reluctant to re-seed his team.

Eriksson's public insistence that his team had suffered in Vienna a mishap rather than a calamity demanding dramatic change did not quite survive the announcement of a team which had Paul Robinson and Defoe stepping into the wreckage of the loss of two points on the first step down the road to World Cup 2006.

Goalkeeper David James and striker Alan Smith gave way to Robinson and Defoe, and the effect was, if not instant, brisk enough.

Defoe, who many thought should have made the European Championship squad, scored in the 37th minute. Any kind of goal would have done at the time as the Poles began to swirl with increasing menace around the English penalty area, but Eriksson's reward for finally investing in a young player of fine talent was far from ordinary. Defoe produced a swivelling, poised strike after receiving a short ball from a David Beckham who, after looking as lost as he has been in his last traumatic few months of football, was finally able to make some impact.

His short pass from the left was collected with such authority by the waspish Tottenham player you were bound to recall the meaning of the loss of Rooney after his ravaging progress through the early going in the tournament in Portugal.

Defoe may not have the range and the power of Rooney but he has called attention to himself for some time with his incisive instincts and his silky execution and this was a calling card of the highest quality. It turned back a tide of impressive Polish build-up and on the balance of play against a home team clearly superior to the Austrians, who had somehow clambered back into the game in which they had trailed by two goals, it was rather more than England deserved.

However, if the most serious charge against them in Vienna was a failure of resolve, the indictment had to be withdrawn in the second half here. The Poles continued to produce most of the coherent, and cohesive football, and scored quite brilliantly in the 48th minute. But England on this occasion refused to buckle and 10 minutes later they were back in front, and with Defoe again providing some of the momentum. He probed deep into the Polish cover, and when the ball was fed wide to Ashley Cole, the goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek was at the mercy of a wave of incoming Englishmen. None of them made contact but Michael Owen, who like his senior team-mate Beckham continues to search desperately for his old bite, applied sufficient pressure for Arkadiusz Glowacki to the put the ball into his own net.

It was a strike that had none of the elegance of Poland's breakthrough, but it did carry a quality that was painfully lacking in the Viennese woods a few days earlier. It had an element of fire.

Poland scored through Maciej Zurawski, who gathered in the ball and shot beautifully after being put through by the rangy and frequently inventive Kamil Kosowski. That gave the Polish a serious injection of momentum in their passionate but on this occasion lightly attended Chorzow stadium. For the second time in five days English nerve was being thoroughly investigated. This time it held rather more impressively.

The decision to drop James and give Robinson his sixth cap ­ and first competitive game ­ was Eriksson's first public concession that the implications of last Saturday's collapse in Vienna were potentially corrosive to his second World Cup qualifying campaign in charge of England. Nothing undermines a team's self-belief more profoundly than the suspicion that their goalkeeper is a disaster waiting to happen, and when it does the coach is complacent only at severe peril. Eriksson was at first emphatic that James would not pay the ultimate football price for the mistake which took away from England two points in the Ernst-Happel stadium. But as the critical pressure mounted, the coach first wavered, then gave way.

One cruel theory was that maybe the captain had had a word. It was certainly true such player power would not have been unprecedented, Eriksson having submitted to dressing-room pressure to reconsider his midfield formation in the match against Switzerland in the European Championship.

Such questions, as they always do, receded with England's success in turning away the most serious fears raised by the failure in Vienna. This was not a great performance. But it had a little iron, a little spark, and, most of all, it had Defoe ­ and the sweeping confirmation that in football the most profitable investment is always in class.

ENGLAND MAN FOR MAN

PAUL ROBINSON 7/10

Showed great composure on a daunting competitive debut. Safe handling justified his inclusion. No chance for the goal and little to do otherwise.

GARY NEVILLE 6

Was delivering customary tidy display, when suffered injury after 30 minutes.

ASHLEY COLE 8

Maintained good run of form in England colours linking well with Bridge and impressing in defence and attack.

LEDLEY KING 6

Continued to display preternatural calm but inexperience showed when occasionally drawn out of position.

JOHN TERRY 6

Made a poor decision for Poland's goal but had earlier cleared off the line a weak King header. Intelligent pass to Beckham for Defoe's goal.

DAVID BECKHAM 5

Worked hard, delivered good pass for Defoe's goal and smart dummy later set up Lampard. But never seized the game and failed to deliver the captain's performance he needed.

STEVEN GERRARD 7

The usual curate's egg. Industrious, he made good tackles and telling passes but still lost shape too frequently and attempted over-ambitious through balls.

FRANK LAMPARD 6

Again found good positions but his finishing deserted him. Like Gerrard should have blocked up centre better for Polish goal.

WAYNE BRIDGE 7

Nervous start characterised by poor passing but steadily improved to link well with Cole.

MICHAEL OWEN 5

Struggled to make a direct impact on the game despite good movement but his presence and reputation won space for Defoe.

JERMAIN DEFOE 8 Announced himself on competitive bow with a wonderfully taken goal. Confident finish augured well given he had earlier snatched at chance. Full of potential.

SUBSTITUTES

JAMIE CARRAGHER 6 (Neville, 31 min) Contributed little offensively but solid in defence.

Kieron Dyer (Defoe, 87), Owen Hargreaves (Beckham, 89) no time to make an impact

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