Surely Eriksson will delay his Roman excursion now

Road to Euro 2004: Militancy gives way to mayhem, then triumph takes over
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The Independent Football

No fans to acclaim them, or if there were, they produced not so much as a whisper within an audience that expelled rancour with every breath. Not a friend in the stadium, nor that many back home either, such has been the antipathy towards their industrial unrest. And as for the players themselves, no great faith in their masters, the Football Association.

Against such a backdrop, England's footballers, damned as rebels without a clue for much of the week, responded with a fortitude, which, whatever criticism may be directed against them, remains a crucial part of their psyche. There had been sceptical smirks when David Beckham had declared beforehand: "In a weird way it has brought the squad closer and has made me realise how close we are as a team." In a strange way he was right.

It was somehow appropriate that Turkey, so rich in both history and intrigue, should provide the scenery for England's advance to the Euro 2004 finals. Just as the wooden horse rolled to the city of Troy by the Greek soldier Odysseus was not what it appeared, so Sven Goran Eriksson's men were far from the team devoid of spirit that might have been presumed from recent events. You suspect they caught the opposition off-guard, too.

England may have been Rio-light, with Michael Owen a hugely significant omission; yet, after one of the most bizarre preparations for an England match, particularly one of such magnitude, an evening which sizzled on the skewer and at times became enveloped in flames concluded with the draw they required.

In truth, despite the millionaire militancy, there was never any real likelihood that their spirit would be damaged. What concerned England-watchers was whether suspect temperament would derail England's plan to fast-track it to Portugal, with Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and, yes, Beckham himself.

The latter is worryingly prone to provocation, and Alpay succeeded in goading him on the pitch and up the tunnel at half-time, following a grotesque penalty miss (perhaps he had spent too much time practising that TV advert with Jonny Wilkinson), to such an extent that referee Pierluigi Collina decided to intervene. Yet the presence of the captain is such a motivating force that he can be forgiven such a brief absence of self-control.

The wounds created by the FA's suspension of "Forgot-to-Fill-A-Jar" Ferdinand had been at least temporarily patched up with much verbal Elastoplast in the two days before the game. It just about prevented the seeping of further vitriol, although it is unlikely we have heard the last of the matter. Neither is this necessarily the conclusion of speculation concerning the next destination of Sven Goran Eriksson, though surely after leading England directly to the European Championship finals he cannot entertain the embrace of Roman Abramovich. At least, not before next summer.

In some quarters it had actually been predicted that his departure was imminent, win, lose or draw. Eriksson gave that notion short shrift afterwards. Indeed, as one of his considerably less successful predecessors, Graham Taylor, stressed, Euro 2004 should be the least of Eriksson's ambitions. "Despite all the nonsense that's been going on, I would not want him to walk away, whatever his reasons are, be they political, or just because he misses club football," Taylor insisted. "I'd say to Sven, 'Do you realise what you're leaving? Don't go and spoil it now.' Is this the best chance that England will have to win another World Cup? I've got to say it is."

Before the game, another former club manager, Big Ron, was busy cementing harmonious relations. "Eh, bet you wish David Beckham was Turkish," ITV's Mr Atkinson remarked to the driver of a coach full of Turkish fans. "No, sir," the fellow replied thoughtfully. Then a pause for effect before he replied. "But we do wish Alpay was English." In the event, the somewhat suspect Aston Villa defender was not unduly embarrassed by England's forwards, though his head-thrust into Beckham's face after the penalty miss was as unnecessary as it was inexplicable.

It has been, if one ignores the mayhem that incident provoked, a rather decent week for Beckham. Despite being one of the 24 "plotters", he has cleverly managed to extricate himself from being considered a hard-line militant - his pal Gary Neville has been left to carry the striker's whistle on that score. Beckham also did himself no harm whatsoever with his accomplished appearance before the world's media on Friday, during which he espoused the notion of "togetherness".

England were always going to require that quality in large quantities; just the appearance of their three goalkeepers 50 minutes before the start had the crowd howling. A huge banner behind the goal in which they practised no doubt caught David James's eye. "Calamity" it read. It turned out to be an accurate verdict on neither him nor England's performance.

Curiously, in the opening minutes, Senol Gunes's men appeared the more cowed by the atmosphere, and permitted England's midfield to pass and run without hindrance. That suited Beckham eminently, and he thrived in his liberation, filleting the opposition like a fisherman on the Bosporous. The crowd's expectancy was a leaden weight on the Turkish shoulders. They were edgy, their passing at times horribly misplaced. England needed merely to maintain their composure. A goal would have bolstered them further, but astonishingly Beckham was guilty of his first serious slip of the week with the penalty.

The whole incident appeared to unnerve the Turkish rearguard, and Rooney, who had betrayed his lack of years, fashioned the best chance of the half for Scholes, but the United player drove just wide.

Turkey launched a belated wave of assaults, but England's resistance did them proud and allowed them to maintain their advantage in the group. They had stood shoulder to shoulder as the national anthem had been played at the start, and metaphorically did so for the next 90-odd minutes. The brothers had prevailed. This time in a thoroughly acceptable way.

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