Locals back Under-20s on rocky road to recovery

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The Independent Football

The most ludicrous moment in the generally absurd Rocky IV comes as the Soviet crowd, impressed by the courage of the US champ, turn against their hero Ivan Drago and start cheering for Rocky.

It would be stretching things a little to say that's what happened in the Estadio Atanasio Girardot on Monday, but only a little: the 40,000 sell-out crowd, having clearly backed Argentina at kick-off, were chanting "Inglaterra" by half-time and whistling at 90 minutes, urging the referee to end the game and secure England's Under-20s a World Cup draw they thoroughly deserved.

The 0-0 score was the same as in the opening game against North Korea, but it could hardly have felt more different. "I'm very proud," said England's coach, Brian Eastick, who was moved by the way the crowd had been won over by his team. "It was nice to see. I hope the clubs who've refused to release their players take a look at that game and see the sort of atmosphere and the sort of experience the players have had, and realise that their players have missed out."

After a difficult first quarter, the game turned when the centre-back Nathan Baker suffered a head injury. Down to 10 men as he received treatment, England were forced to keep possession, and did so superbly, maintaining the more composed approach after James Wallace had replaced Baker, forcing Reece Brown back to centre-back.

England flew to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast yesterday, knowing the climatic conditions there will be even tougher than the altitude of Medellin for tomorrow's meeting with Mexico. "I don't think our approach will be any different," said Eastick. "Mexico are a very good team, as Argentina are an excellent team, technically. It's an advantage for Mexico to be playing in the heat and humidity of Cartagena. The games are getting harder for us because of the recovery between matches. We've had two very tiring games, but we'll have a positive attitude. We could have done without flying up to Cartagena – we'd rather be resting – but that's a World Cup."

At least in that regard, England seem to have got their preparations right – in so far as was possible, given that the tournament is effectively being played in pre-season. "We did altitude training in Denver and it was 100 degrees there," said the captain, Jason Lowe. "We know what to expect and we're ready for it."

A win for England would guarantee qualification for the second phase, probably in second place behind Argentina, while a draw might be enough to take one of the four slots available for best third-placed teams. "You've always got to manage the game," said Lowe. "If the win's there we'll go for the win and if the draw's there we'll see what happens. But we're going for the win."

This is already England's best performance in the competition since 1997 – they've managed only one goal since then, and that a last-minute equaliser in a dead rubber against Uzbekistan – and Eastick insists that even if England go out, it has been a worthwhile experience. "It would be a big disappointment, for myself and the staff, but especially for the players," he said. "But there'll not be any losers. They've come here, received great hospitality from the Colombian people, and everyone will go back to their clubs a far better player. But we're going to go in with a positive attitude and try to win the game."