International Football: England vibrant under Venables: Platt strikes down Danes to give new coach a winning start

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The Independent Online
England. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Denmark. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THE CURTAIN is up and the first night party will take some beating, England having reinforced the new optimism which has swept the domestic game since Terry Venables' appointment by getting the new coach's reign off to a winning start.

Wembley loved it. A full house had greeted Venables like a conquering hero and left with battered pride fully restored by an England team good enough to take play to the European champions and attack them with imagination and conviction.

It may have taken one of the old guard, David Platt, to supply the winning goal - his 21st in 46 appearances - but this was very much a new and improved team. Venables' team. The young tyros he blooded, Graeme Le Saux and Darren Anderton, were instantly at home in international company and Peter Beardsley's energetic enterprise made a nonsense of his exclusion for three years at a time when Graham Taylor's England were crying out for his craft and subtlety.

All things considered, it was a lovely start. Instead of 'We Want Taylor out' it was 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' and an exultant Mexican wave.

England are not suddenly world- beaters, of course, and they will probably be reminded of that in Germany on 20 April - but they are back on the right track. Playing positive, winning football.

Venables had been the overwhelming choice of players, managers and media alike, and the widespread, if not unanimous, approval that greeted his appointment had given him the feeling that the country was united behind him. The Wembley crowd left no room for doubt, receiving him with genuine warmth and rare fervour. All this before his team had kicked a ball in anger.

For the Danes, the atmosphere must have been a throwback to their finest hour - the European Championship final in 1992, when they created one of the biggest upsets the game has seen by beating Germany 2-0.

They have slipped from that peak in the interim and, like England, failed to qualify for the World Cup, but they conceded a miserly two goals in their 12 games in Group Three and unravelling their defensive web, and finding a way past Peter Schmeichel, the best goalkeeper in the world, is never easy.

It took England just 17 minutes. Swept forward on a tide of emotion, they made all the running and were rewarded with the early goal they needed to banish first-game nerves.

It was simple but effective in its execution. A long ball out of defence from Le Saux found Alan Shearer some 25 yards out in the old inside-left channel, and his turn and clever little through pass enabled Platt to nip in front of Chelsea's Jakob Kjeldbjerg before shooting across Schmeichel left- footed, into the far corner.

Impressively assertive, England might have been ahead even earlier, Beardsley and Paul Gascoigne exchanging characteristically neat passes to create the first chance of the match, which saw Gascoigne's shot blocked by Schmeichel and Beardsley's follow-up hurtle over the bar.

One goal left little margin for error. Venables fidgeted in his seat, just in front of the press box, and bowed his head in disbelief when Platt's cross from deep picked up Gascoigne, who should have done better than head straight at the goalkeeper from an inviting position, eight yards out.

England's worst moment of an encouraging first half came when Brian Laudrup evaded Paul Ince and Le Saux in getting to the byline on the left. To Venables' visible relief, David Seaman cut out his cross at the near post with Bent Christensen lurking, unattended behind him.

It would have taken Charlton, Greaves and Moore in their pomp to live up to all the pre-match hype and the overblown expectations it had engendered, but there was much to admire wherever you looked.

The back four were impressively resolute and in front of them there was crisp, penetrative passing and the intelligent movement so conspicuously absent throughout the previous regime.

Beardsley and Gascoigne used the ball with clever economy, Anderton found space wherever the fancy took him and Shearer, the lone striker, foraged tirelessly to keep the Danes' sweeper-orientated defence fully occupied.

One of Anderton's better crosses, from the left, might have brought England a second goal before half- time, but the hooked shot with which Ince met it was deflected behind for an unproductive corner.

Cheered to and from the dressing-room at the interval, Venables could afford to smile. His team had the look of winners throughout, and Brian Laudrup's 58th-minute shot, which demanded a smart, smothering save from Seaman, was Denmark's only chance worthy of the name.

England had enough to have won by a couple more. Platt threatened Schmeichel from 25 yards and Anderton was within inches of decorating his debut with a goal.

Platt was his supplier, a short but incisive pass setting up the Tottenham winger, who lifted the ball over the goalkeeper from the edge of the six-yard box, only to be thwarted by Marc Rieper's goal-line clearance.

Anderton promptly released Gascoigne, who was dispossessed in the act of shooting by the sweeper, Lars Olsen. From the resulting corner, Shearer headed over at close range.

Anderton, with a bobbling shot, demanded Schmeichel's careful attention from 20 yards and England were comfortable enough for Venables to make a double substitution midway through the second half, sending on David Batty and giving Matthew Le Tissier his first cap to the relief of Ince and Gascoigne, neither of whom had been fully fit.

By the end the crowd were chanting Venables' name and the position Taylor had loved and lost had become very tenable for his successor. He may have arrived with England at sixes and sevens, or in a right two and eight, as they say in his old manor, but he left on cloud nine. After a winter of discontent, the new England are up and running.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WEMBLEY LINE-UPS ----------------------------------------------------------------- ENGLAND Seaman Arsenal Parker Adams Pallister Le Saux Man Utd Arsenal Man Utd Blackburn Gascoigne Ince Platt Lazio Man Utd Sampdoria Anderton Beardsley Tottenham Newcastle Shearer Blackburn Rovers ----------------------------------------------------------------- DENMARK B Laudrup Christensen Milan Olympiakos Piraeus M Laudrup Larsen Jensen Vilfort Barcelona Mannheim Arsenal Brondby Dethlefsen Kjeldbjerg Rieper Odense Chelsea Brondby Olsen Seraing Schmeichel Manchester United ----------------------------------------------------------------- England substitutions: Batty (Blackburn) for Ince, 66; Le Tissier (Southampton) for Gascoigne, 66. Denmark substitutions: Hogh (Brondby) for Vilfort, 70; Frederiksen (Silkeborg) for Christensen, 70. Referee: J Uilenberg (Neth). -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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