Rooney a liability for dire England

Spain 1 - England 0
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The Independent Online

So much for friendly internationals. After a build-up dominated by English anger over Spanish racism, which again disfigured last night's match here in Madrid, England fell to an ignominious defeat, their display tainted by a series of ugly incidents. Sven Goran Eriksson's team were almost wholly to blame and none more so than Wayne Rooney, who suffered the indignity of being withdrawn by England's head coach before half-time to save him from being sent off.

So much for friendly internationals. After a build-up dominated by English anger over Spanish racism, which again disfigured last night's match here in Madrid, England fell to an ignominious defeat, their display tainted by a series of ugly incidents. Sven Goran Eriksson's team were almost wholly to blame and none more so than Wayne Rooney, who suffered the indignity of being withdrawn by England's head coach before half-time to save him from being sent off.

Frustrated by both a lack of service and his own inability to make any headway against the Spanish defence, Rooney was fortunate to stay on the pitch for as long as he did. Charging around the pitch like an angry bull, he made a series of wild tackles. After 12 minutes a reckless challenge on Joaquin merited a yellow card, but Rooney escaped. The caution was inevitable, however, and came when he pushed Iker Casillas into the crowd after failing to beat the Spanish goalkeeper to Nicky Butt's through pass.

Moments later the Manchester United striker's wild challenge on Carlos Marchena went unpunished, but understandably infuriated the Spanish team. Eriksson, in probably the best substitution of his England career, wisely withdrew Rooney from the fray, replacing him four minutes before the interval with Alan Smith. As Rooney walked off he threw to the ground the black armband the England players had been wearing in memory of Emlyn Hughes.

Rooney was not the only England player to dish out the rough stuff in the first 45 minutes. Jose Antonio Reyes was twice felled by crunching tackles from Gary Neville as they renewed their combats from the recent club encounter at Old Trafford and the Arsenal striker had to go off for treatment after a fierce challenge from Frank Lampard.

The half ended with Ashley Cole at the centre of more controversy. The Arsenal full-back was booked for a fierce challenge on Michel Salgado, although he appeared to have won the ball. Just before the interval, however, Cole and Lampard clashed with Raul on the touchline in front of the Spanish bench. When Luis Aragones got up to protest, Cole pushed the Spanish coach in the chest.

It was a dreadful first half for England, who were totally outplayed by a vibrant Spanish side. Xavi controlled the midfield, spraying passes wide to Joaquin and Reyes, who gave Cole and Gary Neville respectively a torrid time. In the best move of the half, Xavi threaded an exquisite pass inside Cole to Joaquin, who raced to the byline and delivered a beautifully measured cross. With Paul Robinson beaten, Reyes appeared to have the goal at his mercy but Gary Neville's late intervention at the far post saved the day.

Spain had already threatened twice down the flanks through Joaquin and Reyes before they went ahead through an unlikely source after only 10 minutes. Xavi's corner from the left fell between a group of players on the edge of the six-yard box and bounced free to Asier Del Horno, whose looping header from 10 yards beat Robinson's despairing dive. It was the Athletic Bilbao left-back's first goal for Spain in only his third international.

The home side should have gone further ahead after 24 minutes, when they were awarded a highly controversial penalty. Raul controlled Reyes' firmly struck pass into the penalty area but pushed the ball just too far ahead. The diving Robinson appeared to beat Spain's captain to the ball, but the referee decided he had brought Raul down first. England's protests were in vain, but Robinson made a magnificent save, diving to his left to keep out Raul's strike.

Eriksson had probably planned to make a number of changes at half-time, but in the circumstances he felt he clearly needed to keep his best players on the pitch. Instead it was Aragones who made the changes, taking off Marchena, Raul and Fernando Torres and replacing them with Pablo, Guti and Albert Luque. Eleven minutes later Reyes also went off, making way for Angulo.

The England head coach soon made changes as well, however, bringing on Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jermaine Jenas, Jamie Carragher and Matthew Upson for David Beckham, Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. Beckham was applauded off the pitch by his home fans, but in truth it had been another poor performance by the England captain, who gave the ball away far too often and failed to make any impact from set-pieces.

England had feared a repeat of the racist abuse that marred Tuesday night's Under-21 international and Wright-Phillips immediately became a target of the home fans. The Manchester City winger was subjected to a barrage of monkey chants and booing whenever he got the ball.

The substitutions appeared to disrupt Spain more than England. and the visitors at last began to enjoy some possession, although chances were few and far between.

SPAIN (4-4-2): Casillas (Real Madrid); Salgado (Real Madrid), Juanito (Real Betis), Marchena (Valencia), Del Horno (Athletic Bilbao); Joaquin (Real Betis), X Alonso (Liverpool), Xavi (Barcelona), Reyes (Arsenal); Raul (Real Madrid), F Torres (Atletico Madrid). Substitutes used: Luque (Deportivo la Coruña) for Raul, h-t; Guti (Real Madrid) for Marchena, h-t; Pablo (Atletico Madrid) for F Torres, h-t; Angulo (Valencia) for Reyes, 56; Orbaiz (Athletic Bilbao) for X Alonso, 69; Romero (Deportivo la Coruña) for Joaquin, 79.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Robinson (Tottenham Hotspur); G Neville (Manchester United), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Arsenal); Beckham (Real Madrid), Lampard (Chelsea), Butt (Newcastle United), Bridge (Chelsea); Rooney (Manchester United), Owen (Real Madrid). Substitutes used: Smith (Manchester United) for Rooney, 41; Wright-Phillips (Manchester City) for Beckham, 60; Jenas (Newcastle United) for Lampard, 60; Carragher (Liverpool) for Ferdinand, 62; Upson (Birmingham City) for Terry, 65; Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur) for A Cole, 78.

Referee: G Kasnaferis (Greece).



Continued on page 60

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