Nation in need of a footnote from Rooney

'Suffering' second-half performance gives supporters little to cheer - and a lot to decry

"In football you suffer, and it was good to see the team suffer, hang on and get that result," was the positive spin Sven Goran Eriksson attempted to place on proceedings. Not too many here yesterday would accept that analysis of an exhibition which began so auspiciously with an own goal from the Paraguay captain Carlos Gamarra, engineered by David Beckham's sublime free-kick.

Indeed, for a time there was a belief that a substantial deposit of goals could be banked securely in the England safe. By the end, though, after a particularly sorry second period, Eriksson's men were somewhat fortuitous to be still marginally in credit.

In truth, in the early stages of that first half a second blow to their opponents' torso would have inflicted a wound from which he would not recover, you sensed, especially with first-choice goalkeeper Justo Villar succumbing to injury, a loss that can only have destabilised Paraguay. But although England prowled the ring, outscoring indifferent opposition on points, there was not one player to put Paraguay on the floor.

What yesterday's performance did, if anything, was confirm just why Eriksson is so obdurate in his demands for Wayne Rooney to become available the moment that right foot can accept the stresses of World Cup football.

The response from the overwhelming England presence in the 48,000-capacity stadium to this depressing display was that ultimate insult, the Mexican wave, followed, disgracefully, by the jeering of Owen Hargreaves' late emergence from the bench. It was a reaction largely borne of contempt for the unfamiliarity of the Bayern Munich player and an ignorance of his role, which was here to help maintain that single-goal advantage.

That England bench, from which he had climbed, was not a happy place to be. At the final whistle, Eriksson applied a handkerchief to his brow, like a character from Ice Cold in Alex, though the only desert in view had been the one bereft of England's second-half invention, before exchanging an embrace with his counterpart Anibal Ruiz.

The victor whispered in the ear of the vanquished. It can only have been sweet nothings of relief that Ruiz's team were more intent on closing up, like a sea anemone, whenever danger threatened. In possession, they appeared to possess little more adventure than a philosophy of shooting whenever they spied the custard yellow of Paul Robinson's outfit.

Owen, Rooney's probable partner when he returns, once again looked a man who will be match-fit, but only by the time Newcastle begin their Premiership season. And as for Peter Crouch? What can you say about the striker who has had a special bed constructed for his 6ft 7in frame at the England base camp and, gratifyingly for England, had clearly leapt out of it on the right side yesterday morning.

There was nothing devastating about the long fellow; just a presence which tends to remind you of a wolf worrying sheep. Early on, the Paraguay rearguard must have felt they would have been quite entitled to shoot this dedicated pursuer of lost causes.

And yet. Offer a team a target man and they will increasingly deploy it as their principal outlet from the back, rather than as a useful alternative to an incisive passing game. As the contest progressed, you felt that the Paraguay defence had Crouch's measure: drop off him and fight for the knock-on on rather more equal terms.

Who remains, now that Eriksson, who perversely prefers to maintain a veritable war chest of midfielders, has effectively dispatched the unfortunate stand-by Jermain Defoe to purdah? Ah, yes. Theo Walcott. The way things are going, the time may have arrived for a World Cup baptism for the 17-year-old prodigy earlier than he imagined.

Conceivably, he couldn't do any worse than those in whom Eriksson placed his faith here. Admittedly, Eriksson reacted to circumstances when it became clear that Owen was suffering.

It was clearly not the kind of occasion to place the onus of responsibility on Walcott; so Stewart Downing was pressed into service. "I wanted to see some fresh legs on the pitch," explained Eriksson. "And I wanted Joe Cole as a link between Peter Crouch and the midfield. I think Michael Owen did well and will get better and better."

Though Downing saw much of the ball on his World Cup debut, it was a big ask for the 21-year-old from Middlesbrough. He got little change from Delio Toledo, but at least his time will come again.

Perhaps more disconcertingly, what to make of Beckham on the other wing? This is almost certainly the captain's last stand before celebrity finally engulfs him, certainly at World Cup level. Yet in the second period, influence, either as a captain or as a provider, too frequently evaporated in the late afternoon sun.

Disturbingly for Eriksson, his captain exemplified much of what went amiss with England. Their passing deteriorated as the match progressed. The coach can only hope that by Thursday, when Trinidad & Tobago are the opposition, this outing has cleared the blocked tubes.

QUOTES OF THE DAY

I am extremely pleased with three points. Four years ago we got a draw in the first match and last time [Euro 2004] lost against France. In football, you suffer; it was good to see the team suffer, hang on and get that result.

Sven Goran Eriksson, England coach

You don't realise how hot it was out there. It was a three o'clock kick-off and 28 to 29 degrees.

We let them pass the ball around a little bit too much, but exhaustion came into that and that's what we put it down to, because usually we are strong.

David Beckham, England captain

It was very difficult out there. There were a lot of players suffering with blisters. Our next few games are in the evenings when it will be cooler and that will suit us better.

Steven Gerrard (England)

It was hotter than Portugal [during Euro 2004]. We'll be praying for some cold and damp weather over the next few weeks.

Joe Cole (England)

Our defence was great. Even if Paraguay had the ball a lot, they didn't create many chances.

Eriksson

Once the dust settles we'll see what an important result this is.

Frank Lampard (England)

I changed Michael because we wanted to see some fresh legs. I think Michael did well today. He will be better every game now.

Eriksson on the withdrawal of Michael Owen

It was a stage of the game when we were under a bit of pressure and I just tried to kick the ball as high and as far as possible, and I managed to hit it.

Paul Robinson, England goalkeeper, on striking the suspended video 'cube' with a clearance

I think we handled the heat better than they did and were superior physically. From the 15th minute we controlled them. They are a good side but we were up at their level. I believe we can get results in the next two games.

Anibal Ruiz, Paraguay coach

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