Terry's solid crew supply crucial backbone

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The Independent Football

John Terry's message to the man who made it all possible - his presence in the England starting line-up, that is - is apparently to the effect of "wish you were here with the lads, Rio". With all respect to the earnest Chelsea defender, one can only retort: like hell, you do. Whenever was an international performer too exercised by the means by which he has arrived at football's second most important championships?

There is an argument to suggest that Terry, who enjoyed a rather more productive season for his club than Rio Ferdinand had at his, should have been there by right anyway; not merely by dint of the Manchester United man's forgetfulness when asked to submit himself to a dope test. What was more crucial last night is the fact that there were few occasions when we were made to lament Ferdinand's absence as the Chelsea central defender's understated, but supremely valuable, performance in that area reflected England's overall authority.

England's rearguard had been viewed with a degree of concern before last night, even though the two goals they had conceded in the tournament, both against France, were not directly attributable to the back line. Switzerland had been close to embarrassing them on more than one occasion. This was much improved. Here, in the first period, they could scarcely be faulted for their dedication to the cause, and their negation of the twin threat of Dado Prso and Tomo Sokota. If only their attention had not wandered and permitted Niko Kovac to claim Croatia's opener from a set-piece, the report would have read: highly pleasing.

Set-plays- what is about them that appears to unnerve England? It has been a constant failing throughout the Eriksson years and before. The eclipse of Iceland was even blighted by a goal from such a source. Here, it may have been the early stage of the game, but the failure to react after David James had saved well was scarcely the start that England anticipated. The fact that another free-kick allowed Croatia to reassert themselves in the contest in the second half after so many positives to admire from England, is something that Sven Goran Eriksson must work on before the quarter-final with Portugal.

In the first half, Croatia hardly inflicted a blow. Indeed, their strategy of retreat after they had scored their goal allowed an impressive Ashley Cole, in particular, but also the dogged Gary Neville, the territory in which to provide auxiliary assault forces. It was one of the Arsenal man's best games for his country.

In the centre, Terry and Sol Campbell dovetailed neatly to contain the Croatia front pair, while Steven Gerrard was imperious in his ability to staunch the forward flow. The Liverpool man made one particularly incisive challenge on Prso.

Terry, whose England debut was as substitute against Serbia & Montenegro last summer, made his first start against last night's opponents at Ipswich. He performed with a mature composure that night and, as the only player to complete 90 minutes, ended up with the captaincy. The 23-year-old may have trademark spiky hair. He is not burdened by a similar nature. He lances the opposition forwards' assurance with astute reading of the game rather than with the athleticism of Campbell. His task last night was to subdue Prso, the Monaco forward, whom he had confronted twice in last season's Champions' League semi-final, and Sokota and was rarely deceived by either.

Throughout, the Chelsea man directed and exhorted his fellow defenders with an authority that suggests he could be a captain of his country. Against Switzerland, when he had returned after injury, he appeared a little off the pace, but here he was unflappable and constantly aware of all perils, negating dangers with aplomb. Terry was caught out only once in a splendid first half when he allowed Sokota to wing in a drive. Fortunately, James, on an assured night for the goalkeeper, dealt with the attempt adeptly.

So England progress. The Chelsea defender wants us to believe that the England boys wanna do it for Rio. Don't you believe it. They'll do it for themselves first. And prove that you don't need the world's most expensive defender to win championships.