England 2 Trinidad & Tobago 0: Qualification the consolation after wretched England labour to victory

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The Independent Online

Delivered from despair. In these final, chaotic days of Sven Goran Eriksson's reign it seems that anything is possible and against the men of Port Vale, Falkirk, Dundee and San Juan Jabloteh, England contemplated the bleakest of humiliations. They so nearly left Nuremberg with a draw, but by the end of the night they had qualified for the knock-out rounds of the World Cup finals.

And Wayne Rooney made his comeback. It may seem incredible that, 47 feverish days since he suffered his broken metatarsal, the return of the prodigal son could be upstaged but then this was no ordinary 24 hours in the life of the national team. At times this was a turgid England performance, into which Rooney was sent after 58 minutes as the rescue act. He may have been cast as saviour, but it was Peter Crouch who seized that role in the end.

Seven heady minutes at the end and goals from Crouch and Steven Gerrard conspired to wash away some of the anguish of what had gone before. The simple truth is that England have qualified for the next round and only have to draw with Sweden on Tuesday to win Group B. The whole story of yesterday, however, was a good deal more complicated than that.

It began with the independent medical report that Rooney was at last ready to play and then a day that had carried so much hope began to disintegrate in the muggy heat of the Nuremberg afternoon. As Trinidad & Tobago frustrated England this became a performance comparable with Eriksson's very worst episodes: no sequences of passing and an appalling reliance upon long balls to Crouch.

Michael Owen looked a shadow of the player England had prayed he would be at this tournament and he made way for Rooney without playing an hour. At left-back, Ashley Cole's performance was in direct contrast to his inspirational Euro 2004. Frank Lampard squandered chance after chance. And yet, amid all this, England endured to steal victory in the game's very last phase.

From the ruins there is hope: Eriksson has managed to present the English with reasons to despair in the same five days that he has given the nation two World Cup victories and no goals conceded. It is the way of this Swedish manager that no analysis of his team is simple. They were abject for so much of this game and yet they won. They seem no closer to establishing themselves as a force at this tournament, and yet they are already through to the last 16.

It needed Trinidad &Tobago's erudite Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker to interpret the subtle lessons of this match. The long balls to Crouch were acceptable up to a point he said, "but if England are to go on in the tournament," he added, "they will have to show a little more patience and use their great players in midfield".

It was a theory difficult to find fault with. There was precious little of the passing intricacies that would normally be associated with players of David Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard's stature. England will need them if they are to face Germany in the next round ­ the hosts face Group A's surprise package Ecuador on Monday to decide the first place in that section. Should Germany lose, they will face the winner of England's Group B ­ a status that, come Tuesday, England and Sweden may both wish to avoid.

England's match-winner was Crouch, the same man who had struck one volley so desperately wide that it rolled over the goal-line 15 yards from goal. But on days like these it is impossible not to admire his determination. Indefatigable to the end, his back-post headed goal from Beckham's cross broke the hearts of Dwight Yorke's side who had held out for so long.

There were other performances worthy of mention. On 58 minutes Aaron Lennon came on in the right wing slot as Beckham was switched to full-back. The Tottenham winger was a jinking, determined presence who gave England the width they craved. For these substitutions, Eriksson deserved credit: the introduction of Rooney may have appeared desperate, but Lennon's arrival was inspired.

From the chaos of the first 83 minutes, Gerrard emerged heroically. Up until then he had attempted in vain to inject some kind of rhythm into England. And then, as the game entered injury time he switched the ball from his right foot to his left and struck a delicious 30-yard rising shot past Shaka Hislop.

At lunchtime Professor Angus Wallace had revised his 7 June diagnosis that Rooney should not play in the group stages and, in doing so, ensured himself a lifetime's thanks from the FA. Professor Wallace lent his considerable influence to Eriksson's scheme to accelerate Rooney's return ­ the cynics might suggest that the eminent professor has rather more of a reputation to lose than the England coach.

Against a much more modest side than the South Americans, England developed a promising start into an ever-more sluggish end to the first half. After six minutes, Crouch knocked a ball back from the left wing, Beckham dummied and Lampard struck a shot Shaka Hislop was unable to hold. First to the loose ball was Owen, but it came back at an awkward height, struck him on the knee and dribbled wide.

A right-footed cross from Joe Cole on the left curled to the back post where Crouch tried to usher it home but was blocked by Hislop. Lampard shot wide after 34 minutes but this was an England performance that was drifting dangerously, drifting towards the soporific and the aimless with greater reliance upon a flash of brilliance to save it.

Increasingly that man looked like Gerrard. With four minutes of the first half remaining he struck a ball down the left channel that Owen cut back to Lampard. From all of nine yards, Lampard struck over the bar the kind of chance he routinely buries for Chelsea.

Then came Crouch's mis-hit volley and the cries of "Rooney" from the England support rang out almost immediately. Before half-time, Paul Robinson made a wretched attempt to claim a cross and Stern John bulldozed Rio Ferdinand out of the way to head the ball into an empty goal. Only John Terry's beautifully improvised clearance from underneath the crossbar saved England.

On 58 minutes, Eriksson could wait no longer. It felt deeply premature to be playing the last ace he held but Rooney finally rose from the bench. He came on for Owen whose plight had deepened moments earlier when, unmarked, he had headed wide a Beckham ball to the back post.

Crouch finally broke the deadlock when Lennon headed the ball down to Beckham and the Liverpool striker forced home a back-post header.

Then Gerrard, England's driving force, collected the ball on 91 minutes and struck a goal that released the tension from an anguished afternoon.

Man-for-man marking by Steve Tongue

England

Paul Robinson

Beaten to two vital crosses in a first half that could have produced goals for Trinidad & Tobago. Had one of his least convincing England games. 4/10

Jamie Carragher

Sacrificed to allow Aaron Lennon on, after being untroubled defensively but wasting one or two passes. 5/10

John Terry

Goal-line save from Stern John spared England huge embarrassment. Remained strong at the back and England's best player. 7/10

Rio Ferdinand

Won headers at both ends of the pitch, though he sometimes performed less impressively with his feet. 6/10

Ashley Cole

Surged forward much more than he did against Paraguay, linking up with Joe Cole and lasted the pace well. 7/10

David Beckham

Was already drifting inside without finding his range from long passes before moving to right-back (!) and making the goal. 5/10

Steven Gerrard

Drew two early yellow cards while thrusting forward from deep role but faded a little before Cup final-like strike. 5/10

Frank Lampard

As on Saturday, his shooting was England's greatest threat for most of the game. Could not take good chance late on but unlucky with another. Yellow card. 6/10

Joe Cole

Enjoyed having namesake Ashley down left. Worked well with him before making way for Downing. 6/10

Peter Crouch

Horribly miscued volley shortly before half-time summed up England's lack of cohesion. But redeemed himself eventually. 5/10

Michael Owen

Only 56 minutes on Saturday and just 60 seconds longer last night but could not complain. Wasted his three chances. 5/10

SUBSTITUTES

Wayne Rooney (for Owen, 58): Looking more like a talisman than ever. 7/10

Aaron Lennon (for Carragher, 58) Injected some pace. 7/10

Stewart Downing (for J Cole, 75) Less imp-ressive than Lennon. 6/10

Trinidad & Tobago

Shaka Hislop

A hero in the opening group game against Sweden, was required to do far less. No chance with the goals. 6/10

Carlos Edwards

Forced to slot in at right-back, the Luton midfielder stuck to Joe Cole and his task with admirable determination. 7/10

Brent Sancho

Defiant defending by the Gillingham centre-half until left on his own to mark Crouch for England's first goal. 7/10

Dennis Lawrence

One of the few defenders at the tournament tall enough to look Crouch in the eye, he could do so with pride at the end of the game. 8/10

Cyd Gray

Deputising for the suspended Avery John, he grew in confidence as the game wore on before having to cope with Lennon. 6/10

Aurtis Whitley

Early yellow card for foul on Gerrard may have inhibited him a little. Not seen much thereafter. 4/10

Densill Theobald

The Falkirk man also collected a caution early on, for holding back Gerrard. Stuck close to Beckham before being substituted. 5/10

Dwight Yorke

His team funnelled everything through him and he rarely lost possession. Set pieces improved after a wasteful start. 7/10

Chris Birchall

Port Vale's World Cup star worked as hard as expected in the sticky heat, getting up and down to reasonable effect. 7/10

Stern John

Would have added to his remarkable 65 goals for his country but for Terry's goal-line clearance. 5/10

Kenwyne Jones

The Southampton youngster drifted intelligently between midfield and the front without threatening, and was replaced with 20 minutes to play. 5/10

SUBSTITUTES

Cornell Glen (for Jones, 69) Could have become a legend thanks to two late breaks - he skated past Ashley Cole for one, only for the Arsenal defender to make a saving tackle. 7/10

Also: Evans Wise for Theobald 85.

Next up for England... Germany?

If England finish top of Group B, they face the runners-up from Group A. This will be either Germany or Ecuador, who both have six points and meet in Berlin on Tuesday. Germany must win that game to top the group, because Ecuador currently have superior goal difference. With England likely to finish first, their second-round match will be on Sunday 25 June at 4pm at Stuttgart's Gottlieb Daimler-Stadion. If they finish second in the group, they will play the winner of Group A and will move into the top half of the draw. Their second-round match would be on Saturday 24 June at 4pm in Munich.

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