James Lawton: Beckham and Eriksson are the masters of confusion in a regime where talk is cheap

If ever a team looked in need of Hiddink's organisation, it was England
Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of these days England will borrow a trick from Brazil or Germany or, come to think of it, any of the multiple World Cup winners. They will know who they are and what they are attempting to do long before the onset of serious action in a major tournament.

Meanwhile, it is a little more of Sven Goran Eriksson. It is absurd little screen tests like the ones faced by Charlton's Darren Bent and Tottenham's Michael Carrick here last night,

It is the kind of acute embarrassment which settled as Uruguay, ejected from this summer's World Cup finals by Gus Hiddink's Australian Socceroos, led at half-time, which, when Eriksson has anything to do with it, is of course the inevitable dividing line between a friendly game of some vague shape and meaning and complete farce.

Peter Crouch's equaliser in the 75th minute, and Joe Cole's winner in stoppage time, brought not so much redemption as a reminder that England always have the potential to rise out of chaos. But will that be enough in the disciplined trenches that World Cup winners have to inhabit?

Hiddink, a man of superb credentials in both club and international football, has apparently already been discarded as the Football Association consider Eriksson's successor.

Last night there surely had to be an instinct to think again. If ever a team looked in need of some organisation - the kind provided by Hiddink in his preparation of South Korea four years ago and Australia this time - it was England in the first half.

At least Eriksson had the grace to send out the trialists Bent and Carrick for the second half. Judging them on the first half alone would have been nothing so much as an act of casual cruelty.

Before the game there were the usual foggy tactical debates which run from one major tournament to another. There was also a captain who will talk about anything but his own killing shortfall in performance in the two European Championships and two World Cups encountered thus far in his hugely hyped career.

This week David Beckham was running his eyes over the contenders for the job his patron Eriksson will be forced to abandon whatever happens in Germany in a few months' time.

The consensus of interpretation was that he leans to the candidacy of Martin 0'Neill. Only in English football could such debate go on at such a time, one surely, of basic imperatives like polishing a few well-laid plans and refining the ambitions of long-selected troops.

Of course there is a growing gap between Beckham's version of reality and that of the rest of the football world.

Last week he was telling us his Real Madrid were a notch ahead of Barcelona. This week he was talking of England's impressive march to the finals in Germany. Then, when the real business began, he tamely made a mess of a one-on-one with with goalkeeper Fabian Carini and was soon after booked for a gratuitous foul on Mario Regueiro.

It was not quite what he had in mind in his briefings, but then the pattern is becoming familiar. Eriksson's team talk a bullish game, and then, critically, they have to perform.

Bent was widely believed to have been given 45 minutes to play himself into a World Cup. It sounded crazy, and it was, but don't let's forget how Darius Vassell made a late run for the plane for the last one in Japan on the strength of a goal scored in a friendly in Amsterdam. Remember Vassell? He's lost from sight, along, at least as far as is Eriksson concerned, with those Dutch headlines.

Bent looked in danger of the same fate as his night of destiny might just as well have been spent chatting with the inhabitants of the Kop. The striker's service in the first half was pitiful.

It meant that the best England could do was seize on rare moments of promise and cohesion; a surging run by Wayne Rooney, a beautifully perceptive pass by Carrick, a piece of smart running by Cole and then, when Beckham was replaced, a flash of penetration from Shaun Wright-Phillips.

With Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Rooney off the field, the match had lost whatever slight significance it had. All that was left was a deepening of the sense that if England do find glory in Germany it will only be by the force of exceptional spirit - and individual deeds.

Some items of evidence suggesting confusion were more circumstantial than others, and in this number we probably had to include the fact that Crouch wore 21 on the front of his shirt and 12 on the back. It was another reason, for all the vigour of Eriksson's late rescue team, for the watching Sir Tom Finney to grimace in disbelief.

England: Man-for-man marking

PAUL ROBINSON

A careless pass to Gary Neville set the tone for an unconvincing start, although he could not be faulted for Omar Pouso's goal and grew in stature as the game wore on 6/10

GARY NEVILLE

A mixed reception from the Anfield crowd was the least of his concerns as Mario Regueiro made for a problematic opponent. Distribution far outshone his defensive display. 6

RIO FERDINAND

The lapses that are all too prevalent in his game were again in evidence when he made an unsuccessful attempt to beat Diego Forlan in a ridiculous position. Rarely tested otherwise. 5

JOHN TERRY

The most accomplished member of the England defence despite producing the clearance that led to Pouso's goal. A barn-storming run from the half-way line was the closest England came to an equaliser before the break. 6

WAYNE BRIDGE

For 30 minutes the strength of his support play justified his decision to seek first-team football at Craven Cottage. Then he was chopped down by the curse of the England left-back. 5

DAVID BECKHAM

Booked for helping out his friend Neville by careering through the back of Regueiro. Other than his inability to tackle and apparent lack of fitness, the captain was completely inconspicuous. 5

STEVEN GERRARD

An effective presence in the final third but was not there often enough during his 45 minutes on the pitch. Needed more to cement his position as England's finest attacking midfielder. 6

MICHAEL CARRICK

Considering the pressure he was under in this audition for the World Cup, he can be satisfied with his work. Efficient distribution and defensively solid, though left occasional gaps behind. 6

JOE COLE

The debate on England's problematic left flank was close to re-igniting as the Chelsea man drifted inside with increasing regularity but, with the discipline to remain out wide, he grew in stature. Conjured Crouch's equaliser then clinched victory. 7

DARREN BENT

Accurate and aware in possession, but unfortunately for his prospects of going to Germany this summer those opportunities were few. Placed a header, his only chance of the night, wide and will not have caused Jermain Defoe sleepless nights. 4

WAYNE ROONEY

Fortunate that the Italian referee treated the contest as a friendly when he lunged at Regueiro and, though his work-rate was outstanding, he was restricted to hopeful shots from distance. 6

SUBSTITUTES:

Jamie Carragher (for Bridge, 30): Proved under Gérard Houllier that he can play left-back and his organisational qualities were required. 6

Jermaine Jenas (for Gerrard, 46): Similar to Carrick with his intelligent distribution, but needed to be involved more. 5

Ledley King (for Terry, 46): With the Uruguayans content to protect their slender advantage he had little opportunity to show his defensive attributes. 5

Shaun Wright-Phillips (for Beckham, 64): One of his brightest international performances, inventive and involved from the moment he arrived. 6

Peter Crouch (for Rooney, 64): Guaranteed his place at the World Cup with the equaliser that underlined the contrasting options he gives to Eriksson. 6

Jermain Defoe (for Bent, 82): Offered accurate touches but little time to make impression. 4

Comments