England still wide of mark as centre folds

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One of the consolations to be drawn from England's 2-0 defeat in Seville, we were told, was that there are not many Spains out there in the international football jungle. England, with four wins out of four so far, should unquestionably qualify for the World Cup finalsas usual, with a greater concern being – again as usual – what happens once they are there.

In that respect it has been rather an alarming week. At the Emirates on Tuesday, 60,000 lucky spectators saw Brazil produce a quality of football to surpass even Spain's, while the world champions, Italy, also impressed in their own less flamboyant way; on Wednesday, Argentina demolished France in Paris as Carlos Tevez sent Lionel Messi slaloming through the home defence to score a goal worthy of the delighted team manager, Diego Maradona, himself. "The ball is an extension of his body," Mara-dona purred, and how many English players can say that?

As a demonstration of excellence of technique, Spain's performance was hard to beat, though Brazil exceeded it by adding their own special flair. In doing so they prevented Italy's manager, Marcello Lippi, achieving a world record of 32 games unbeaten, yet the Italians too have something England do not possess in Andrea Pirlo, a playmaker who operates from so deep he would be regarded in British terms as a defensive holding midfielder.

It would be fascinating to see if Michael Carrick, with his passing ability, could develop in that role. For Manchester United he has become more adventurous, but in Seville he and Gareth Barry found themselves chasing a ball fizzed around between the four interchanging Spanish midfielders. Spain opted for a narrow quartet of outstanding ball-players while the almost recklessly offensive full-backs Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila provided width. England had again chosen two genuine wingers, but the hard-working Shaun Wright-Phillips had to come inside to help out and Stewart Downing was neither fish nor fowl on the left.

A combination of Fabio Capello's faltering English and guarded manner meant that it was difficult to discern exactly what he made of the match, or England's current standing. The TV audience heard him say as an opening remark, "For me it's a very, very poor game," which would have astonished Spanish fans and presumably referred to his team's performance. As ever, he claimed to have learnt things about individual players, which with the exceptions of Emile Heskey, Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole must have been largely negative.

Later on a late Spanish night he elaborated: "The second half we played better. We played 80 per cent to the left in the first half. It is impossible to arrive at the goal like that. You can't score goals when the ball is going left, left, left and you never switch it.

"The pool of players is wider now. The important thing is what the form of the players will be like before the next game. That is very important. I know more players. [James] Milner has been with us for the first time. He was on the bench but I saw him in training."

The attraction of playing Spain, he had said, was to encounter a different style, "like South American but with more speed". The evidence of the week was that Brazil and Argentina are no slouches either and that England's victory in Germany (where Norway won on Wednesday) was greeted with excessive optimism.

Come the friendly at home to Slovakia next month and then Ukraine's visit in a qualifying game four days later, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, if fully fit, would automatically replace Phil Jagielka and Gabriel Agbonlahor, but the England midfield is as much of a conundrum as ever. The answer may be for Wright-Phillips (still ahead of David Beckham for a full shift) to offer the width on the right, while three others combat the trio of central players that visitors to Wembley tend to field – three from Carrick, Barry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, of whom Barry has been the weakest in the two home matches this season.

Beckham, meanwhile, has a big chance to convince Capello and Milan of his worth in tonight's derby against Serie A leaders Inter. Milan yesterday refused to be put off signing Beckham, despite LA Galaxy's insistence that he will return when his loan ends on 8 March.

Galaxy are unhappy Milan failed to meet a Major League Soccer deadline to close the deal by Friday for the 33-year-old, but Milan's chief executive, Adriano Galliani, dismissed Galaxy's stance as a "tactic" and the club's coach, Carlo Ancelotti, thinks a move is possible.

"Galaxy have forced the situation, but there's time before 9 March, we've still got 20 days to close the deal," said Ancelotti."My wish is that he can play in other derbies."

"David is focused on the derby. We will be addressing this early next week," said Beckham spokesman Simon Oliveira.

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