England 1 Belarus 2: Accident-prone England suffer setback but Lennon impresses

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The Independent Football

A gentle start to the summer in Germany on a mild evening in Berkshire and it ended in a strange kind of humiliation for England. The World Cup was not lost last night but England rediscovered their talent for seeking out disaster when triumph is theirs for the asking. And it left Eriksson presiding with all the authority of another local icon of English management: David Brent, of The Office, who hails from just down the M4 in Slough.

There was cause for optimism in the performance of Aaron Lennon, who terrorised Belarus down the right flank in the first half. Michael Owen came through an hour without any discernible pain in his right foot. Green is only the third-choice goalkeeper and hardly indispensable. And yet, as a launch pad for conquering the world this summer it felt like a false start.

Theo Walcott must have believed that nothing could overshadow his first appearance in an England shirt aged 17 and 70 days - he was wrong. Green stole the show five minutes into the second half after he had come on for David James in the interval. He stepped up to strike a goal-kick, collapsed and, as the ball dribbled out to Vitaly Kutozov, could only lie on the ground as the equaliser was rolled past him.

Until then it had all the makings of a turkey shoot. Lennon tore into the full-back Alexander Yurevich and Jermaine Jenas nodded in the first goal on 35 minutes. There were six substitutions among the England team, and this was a side that had never played together before - two had never even played international football. Yet England should still never have lost to a Belarus side which did not even have Arsenal's Alexander Hleb.

Eriksson listed so many positive points from the match that you could have been forgiven for thinking his team had won. He would have been right to claim that Michael Carrick was adequate in the holding midfield role, Owen Hargreaves was an able deputy at right-back and Walcott looked far from overawed. But as ever in the reign of Eriksson his comfortable forgiving analysis does not sit easy with the bizarre scoreline.

The result, Eriksson said, was "not that important" and it certainly looked that way at the start, although the team that did not care were unmistakably Belarus. Unlike the Chile team that beat the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, Belarus gave the impression they thought much less of the match's B international status than the 22,032 fans who had filled the Madejski Stadium

For Owen it must have seemed like the waste of a good chance to make serious inroads into Sir Bobby Charlton's record total of 49 England goals. He thundered through the Belarus defence on to Carrick's pass on five minutes with the metatarsal looking fully healed. The six-month rest has had no effect on his natural striker's greed: instead of squaring to Peter Crouch, he shot straight at goalkeeper Yury Zhevnov.

The real agony for Belarus, however, was on their left side, where Yurevich had found himself up against a young man in Lennon who was in a hurry to make his reputation. The 19-year-old Tottenham winger did not even have to use the full extent of his pace to embarrass the left-back but he did go past him with humiliating ease.

There were just nine minutes gone when Yurevich was already chasing the England No 7 back towards his own goal. Lennon's low cross to the near post was directed in by Crouch, who had momentarily strayed offside as the winger began his run and had his goal disallowed. With 14 minutes on the clock, Yurevich was struggling again and the Tottenham man clipped a cross over that almost found its way in.

England's breakthrough arrived when Stewart Downing hit a cross from the left that, from an offside position, Owen headed against the bar. Jenas stooped to nod in the rebound.

Belarus had hit the England post at the end of the first half in a rare attack, then five minutes into the second half came Green's calamitous fall, which meant a chance for Scott Carson, the England Under-21 international who became Eriksson's third goalkeeper of the night. Carson signed for Liverpool from Leeds United last season and the Cumbrian-born goalkeeper spent a humble end to this season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.

Walcott finally got his chance on 65 minutes. His first touch was a burst of pace that took him between Sergei Shtanyuk and Alexander Shahoika until the former stepped across the teenager and earned a booking for the bodycheck.

Belarus were reduced to 10 men when Sergei Omelyanchuk was given his second yellow card for a foul on Lennon. Walcott had a shot saved and then disaster struck: the substitutes Sergei Kornilenko and Nikolai Kashevsky combined before the former held off Michael Dawson to score. The booing at the end might have been for Belarus but it was certainly not the sound Eriksson's side expected to accompany them off the pitch.

England B (4-4-2): James (Manchester City); Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Carragher (Liverpool), Campbell (Arsenal), A Cole (Arsenal); Lennon (Tottenham), Carrick (Tottenham), Jenas (Tottenham), Downing (Middlesbrough); Crouch (Liverpool), Owen (Newcastle). Substitutes: Green (gk, Norwich) for James (h-t); Carson (Liverpool) for Green, 58; J Cole (Chelsea) for Jenas, 61; Walcott (Arsenal) for Owen, 61; Defoe (Tottenham) for Crouch, 79; Dawson (Tottenham) for Downing, 79.

Belarus (4-1-3-2): Zhevnov (FC Moscow, Rus); Omelianchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow, Rus), Lentesevich (Tom Tomsk, Rus),Shtanyuk (Shinnik Yaroslavl, Rus), Yurevich (Shakhtior, Bela); Kulchy (Tom Tomsk, Rus); Korytko (Grozny, Rus), Kalachev (Khimki, Rus), Romashchenko (Dynamo Moscow, Rus); Bulyga (Krylya Sovetov Samara, Rus), Kutuzov (Sampdoria, It). Substitutes: Khomutovsky (Steaua Bucharest) for Zhevnov, h-t; Shahoika (Homel, Bela) for Yurevich, 61; Kornilenko (Dnepr, Ukr) for Bulyga, h-t; Kashevesky (Krivbas, Ukr) for Romashchenko, 74; Pankavets (Homel, Bela) for Kalachev 80.

Referee: D McKeown (Ireland).

Man for man marking by Andy Hunter

David James

Given little to do but caused alarm with a poor clearance. 6/10

Owen Hargreaves

Showed good stamina, but careless on the ball and indecisive in his own penalty area. 6

Jamie Carragher

A breeze. Did not require this game to show his fitness or commanding form. 7

Sol Campbell

Started slowly but looking more like his former self with every outing. Had an impact at both ends of the pitch. 7

Ashley Cole

Looking sharper and on course, in Wenger's words, to be in "perfect condition" for the World Cup. 6

Aaron Lennon

Justified the excitement he has generated with an excellent winger's display, brimming with pace and creativity. 8

Jermaine Jenas

Scored the opening goal, although he could hardly miss. Needed to impose himself more. 6

Michael Carrick

Lacked poise and presence, butcreated great chance for Owen. 6

Stewart Downing

Quiet in comparison with Lennon, but good set-piece delivery. 6

Michael Owen

Squandered one gilt-edged chance but tireless for 61 minutes. 7

Peter Crouch

Faultless team-work as usual and his partnership with Owen looked encouraging but he lacks the class to generate confidence for Germany. 6


Robert Green

(for James, h-t) A disastrous five minutes. His groin - and World Cup prospects - collapsed ahead of the Belarus equaliser. 0

Scott Carson

(for Green, 58) Had only one chance to make an impact but was beaten by an excellent finish. 3

Theo Walcott

(for Owen, 61) Ensured the hype will keep bubbling with one promising run that resulted in a foul and an instinctive shot from 25 yards. 6

Joe Cole

(for Jenas, 68) Didn't see enough of the ball to make impression. 4

Jermain Defoe

(for Crouch, 79) Not on long enough to press claims for inclusion in final 23-man squad. 4

Michael Dawson

(for Downing, 79) Gave his man too much room for the winner. 4