No system, no spirit: Sven's men in a world of doubters

England over the threshold - but a daunting summer beckons

The rest of us will require some convincing after this fourth in a saga of depressing displays against opposition that, on all previous evidence, should have lined up, legs bound and throats bared for the kill, that New Sven is much altered from the man who stood bemused and confused after that horror at Windsor Park. If, as he claimed after this, that he was "very happy with the boys' performance", then he is easily satisfied or believes that we will all be deceived by the spin he placed on yesterday's events.

The second-half banishment of his captain, back on familiar terrain in royal David's city, unjustified or not, will no doubt provide a welcome distraction when his perennial critics would otherwise be rounding on him soundly once more.

True, his England have qualifiedbefore Wednesday night's group finale against Poland, but though this victory will be received as a welcome antidote to the toxin which invaded his team's system against Northern Ireland he will recognise that, with Germany 2006 in mind, that this is nothing more than "the end of the beginning".

The prospect of doing battle with Brazil, Argentina, and any manner of potentially potent European sides in Germany next June is not just a challenging one but currently an unnerving one. Yesterday attested to that.

Earlier in the afternoon, a weakened Wales's dispatch of Lawrie Sanchez's team at Windsor Park had confirmed just how desperately insipid England werelast month. At least John Toshack's team employed two strikers. Eriksson has had time to reflect on the wisdom of his 4-5-1 system there (or call it 4-3-3, if you prefer, with Wayne Rooney wide), with that perverse "quarterback" role for Beckham, and here he returned to a strategy that all players are familiar with, though the spectacle of that cloud-gazer Peter Crouch in an England shirt in a competitive match was not something most of us would have ever conceived as a sophisticated philosophy in World Cup football.

Indeed, to suggest a year ago that the Southampton striker would become an adopted Scouser and be here as a replacement for Rooney would have been risible. Probably even in Crouch's own household. Even now, on recent form, some of us were somewhat bemused by his selection in tandem with Michael Owen. As the more mischievous have been asking all week, how does a 6ft 7in player who cannot head the ball and has not scored for his club find himself in the England team? The reality was that he commended himself to Eriksson as a player who could offer a contribution to Plan C or D on some future occasion. Maybe in times of desperation against the élite, or against a weak rearguard.

The bizarre truth is that the Liverpool import is actually more proficient with the ball on the ground than in the air, and he will not have disillusioned Eriksson as to his potential. Crouch refused to live down to his name. Indeed, for the most part, he stood tall. Unfortunately, once again he failed to satisfy a striker's prerequisite, which is to score.

Still, at least Crouch was a significant extra in the incident that yielded the first- half penalty, converted by Frank Lampard, which secured the game for England. That should have heralded a period of relative freedom for Eriksson's men to exhibit a finesse and vision that few of yesterday's rivals could match. Instead, those old self-doubts appeared, intensified, and by the second period were positively overwhelming. After the break, a definite sense of unease pervaded the England ranks. It was akin to the exhibition against Wales a month ago all over again.

Suddenly, the England rearguard, who had enjoyed a relatively undisturbed first half, had to produce their defensive credentials. Hitherto, there had been no real opportunity to discern whether John Terry and Sol Campbell at centre-back would prove as complementary as Eriksson imagined when he astonished everyone by casting Rio Ferdinand aside.

It had been a rare act of defiance against the England dressing room's ruling class, though whether the coach was merely asserting himself as Eriksson the Action Man - always a dangerous policy for a coach - or truly recognising his club form had been errant was not evident. Or maybe it had been, as one of Eriksson's predecessors, Glenn Hoddle, had interpreted the move, simply a tactical decision, with Terry and Campbell deployed specifically to negate Austria's lanky strikers.

Of course, England may have lived to regret the absence of the ball-playing Manchester United defender. But Eriksson could be reassured that in Terry, at least, he had a vastly improved performer, one blessed with ever-enhanced passing skills, as he demonstrated in the first half.

As for his affinity with Campbell, that will remain an argument for the future. It became academic when Ferdinand replaced the injured Campbell to ensure that at last we had a Manchester United man on the field, a former Old Trafford icon having by then departed ignominiously. The priority then became protection of England's slender advantage.

They did so narrowly, though their coach will be left to reflect on a week in which he has finally talked the talk. But can England walk the World Cup walk?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam