England exposed by Dutch inspiration

England 0 Netherlands 2
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The Independent Football

Now Sven Goran Eriksson knows why the Football Association sent for him, why it pays him a King's ransom, and why his achievement in winning his first five matches saw him elevated to the status of guru.

This was England pre-Eriksson, the England which turned Bobby Robson grey, had Graham Taylor waking up before dawn in sweat-soaked pyjamas, and sent Don Revie to the desert.

Most of all, this was the England which scarred Kevin Keegan. The England which cannot pass to a team-mate. The only consolation for Eriksson, as he mulls over the entrails of defeat, is that no points were at stake. But, unless there is a marked improvement against Germany in Munich on 1 September, England will be headed for the World Cup qualifying play-offs. Germany, incidentally, beat Hungary 5-2 last night.

It was a good night for some Englishmen. David Seaman, Steven Gerrard, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand all had their reputations enhanced in their absence. The absence of Gerrard, in particular, was felt. England were utterly outplayed in midfield with Mark van Bommel and Philip Cocu dominating the first half and Van Bommel and Edgar Davids the second. Van Bommel, who shone against Manchester United last season and will surely not spend much longer in the poorly remunerated Dutch League, capped his performance with a stunning goal. That came after 37 minutes and was long overdue. When Ruud van Nistelrooy followed it with his second goal on British turf in four days everyone knew that, even though there were 52 minutes left, the game was over.

The Dutch grasp on midfield permeated throughout the match. It meant Paul Scholes was too busy fire-fighting to get forward; it left Andy Cole and Robbie Fowler, partners in disaffection at club level, with just scraps to feed on. Not that either looked sharp enough to take advantage had the service been better. It hardly helped that David Beckham, hitherto a shining light of Eriksson's reign, had his least distinguished England match since Keegan's departure. His passing, short and long, was surprisingly poor.

On the other flank was Owen Hargreaves. Peripheral for much of the game it seemed, as his club coach Ottmar Hitzfeld had feared, that the honour had come too early. Perhaps the pre-match news that his grandfather, Henry Hargreaves, had died in Canada on Tuesday, had an effect. Perhaps he should have been played in the holding role, his preferred position, though he has played on the left with distinction for Bayern Munich. Still, he will be better for the experience. So will Ashley Cole, who was given such a chasing by Boudewijn Zenden that one was reminded how new to this level he is. At least Chelsea fans in attendance will have drooled at their new winger's pace and skill.

Fortunately for England, the only Dutchman who took time to settle was Van Nistelrooy. Had he not, they could have been two down in 11 minutes. The £18m striker had already put a speculative volley wide when, after seven minutes, he was unable to shake off Martin Keown sufficiently to take advantage of a dangerous Zenden cross. Then, when he did elude Keown, he shot straight at Nigel Martyn.

Beckham, realising the game was already drifting away, attempted to lift his team. Running at Giovanni van Bronckhorst, he turned Arsenal's new signing back-and-forth before releasing a low shot which Erwin van der Sar clutched without difficulty. The new Fulham keeper had to move more sharply after 22 minutes as Scholes, on a rare foray forward, received a Hargreaves pass before shooting from 25 yards.

England's supremacy was brief. Van Bommel regained control and, five minutes later, his good work should have brought reward when Cocu broke into the box. Ashley Cole, with a clumsy challenge, felled him but, to the undisguised fury of the Dutch, the Swedish referee waved play on.

It is often said the biggest weakness of Dutch players is between the ears and so it seemed as, rattled, their concentration dropped. England looked to take advantage but found Van der Sar still paying attention. Having denied Andy Cole with his feet, he arched acrobatically to tip over a 30-yard volley which would have brought Gary Neville his first international goal.

The Manchester United defender's disappointment deepened when, a few minutes later, he was booked for fouling Van Bronckhorst. The punishment did not end there as the ball was played square to Van Bommel who, given time and space, lashed a swerving 35-yard drive past Martyn.

A minute later the Leeds goalkeeper was beaten again. This time he got to Zenden's shot but could only parry and Van Nistelrooy tapped in. His confidence rising, the United striker almost added a third with a delicate chip on to the bar.

Only Carragher, Keown and Andy Cole survived the half-time cull and Keown was limping off a minute later. Attempting to catch Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, he collided with the knee of David James. James, who had made an excellent save from Hasselbaink, was carried off. Both players will undergo scans today.

Just once, in the final minute, did England seriously threaten their lead and then Michael Owen, seizing on a back pass by Davids, shot over.

The match had started late through traffic congestion ­ not the only area in which White Hart Lane proved inadequate for an England international. England left wishing it had never started at all.

England 0 Netherlands 2

Van Bommel 38, Van Nistelrooy 39

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 35,238

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Martyn (Leeds); G Neville (Man Utd), Brown (Man Utd), Keown (Arsenal) Ashley Cole (Arsenal); Beckham (Man Utd) Scholes (Man Utd), Carragher (Liverpool), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich); Andy Cole (Manchester Utd), Fowler (Liverpool).

THE NETHERLANDS (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Fulham), Reiziger (Barcelona), Stam (Man Utd), Hofland (PSV Eindhoven); Overmars (Barcelona), Van Bommel (PSC Eindhoven), Cocu (Barcelona), Zenden (Chelsea); Van Nistelrooy (Man Utd), Kluivert (Barcelona).

Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).