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?

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick