New order call the tune on night of high passion

Mike Rowbottom on the young lions who helped shape a thrilling game
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The Independent Online
As Wembley buzzed and rumbled and roared last night, it was almost as if we were still in Euro 96. But for all the similarity in personnel to the side which did England proud in June, this was the team that Hoddle had built - and he had good reason to be pleased with its original new features.

Hoddle's decision to persevere with David Beckham and Andy Hinchcliffe, to whom he gave first caps in his first game in charge against Moldova, was repaid by two highly promising displays.

And in giving Les Ferdinand a second chance to establish at international level the club partnership he now has with Alan Shearer, Hoddle was also rewarded, even if the big pay-off involved an element of luck.

Ferdinand was not the intended recipient of Shearer's snap shot after 37 minutes, but the way in which he imposed himself on the situation when the ball was deflected to him, hunching his hugely strong frame around the ball and chesting it back to his Newcastle colleague for a second attempt, could not have been bettered. Shearer, and Poland, found the invitation irresistible.

By that stage, however, Hoddle's two new boys had already begun to make their presence felt to good effect. As the game threatened to slide unexpectedly away from England in the early stages, Hinchcliffe set about hunting the ball down with a singleness of purpose that sent little surges of morale through the team and 74,000 supporters who were desperate to find something to acclaim.

After 25 minutes they had something even more substantial to cheer about as Beckham, showing the composure which characterises his play, floated in a gorgeous, hanging cross from deep on the right flank. As soon as the ball was released, Shearer was stalking it like a lion that had seen its prey, and he did not miss his kill.

Beckham had indicated his sharpness after 17 minutes when, after dispossessing an opponent in a tackle which sent the ball speeding towards the touchline, he alone realised that it was spinning so wildly that it was not going off. His resulting cross was held by Poland's keeper, but as he found his feet on the right in the second half, similar efforts produced far more anxiety in the visiting defence, and after 57 minutes he set up Gascoigne for a deflected shot that was inches away from giving England their third goal.

No one appeared more eager to do that than Ferdinand, the sweat pouring off him as he strained to make a more tangible effect on what was a significant occasion for him. But two marginal offside decisions and, 15 minutes from time, an astute and dogged challenge from Poland's right-back Radoslaw Michalski frustrated him.

In the last minute Ferdinand's frustration grew as the goalkeeper's foot prevented him converting a clear chance in a move initiated by a tackle in his own box by Beckham.

The early chants had recalled Euro 96 - "Football's coming home..." But if there were still three lions on the shirt, the contents were in disarray as the Poles floated forward under the direction of their captain, Piotr Nowak, who had spoken before the game about making sure that his young colleagues did not have "too many things in their head" to put them off their game.

It was the home players who seemed to have too much on their minds to cope properly as the Poles took the lead without them having so much as a suggestion of a chance.

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