Portugal draw England into the real world

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reports from Wembley

England 1 Portugal 1

Graham Taylor was once ridiculed for saying that half-time came at the wrong time. Last night Terry Venables, his successor as England coach, understood what he meant.

When Steve Stone scored for England a minute before the break at Wembley last night England looked set to gain an impressive win over a strong Portuguese side. It would have been just the fillip before Sunday's European Championship draw in Birmingham. Instead the visitors were able to regroup and take a draw through Paolo Alves.

That draw, and the afternoon's World Cup draw, appeared to introduce an uncommon mood of realism to last night's game. The early skirmishes were marked by fouls and defensive caution, just as a competitive one would be. The spectacle was not helped by a period of settling in for England as they struggled to adjust to Venables' latest formation.

It was certainly a bold one, with the midfield diamond revived to support the forward pairing of Ferdinand and Shearer which had been unveiled on Monday. Nick Barmby was the diamond's forward point while Paul Gascoigne filled the holding role. Given Gascoigne's penchant for provoking danger in both penalty boxes it was a high-risk strategy.

While England eased their way into their new shape the Portuguese made the early running with Folha chipping wide and Sa Pinto toe-poking a 20- yard shot into David Seaman's arms.

With Stone and Dennis Wise tucked in, England lacked width and, initially, attempted to find Ferdinand and Shearer with early balls into the channels. These were easily dealt with and, though the busy Barmby and Stone both showed good movement around the box it was more than half an hour until Neno was called into serious action. Then it was Tony Adams, barnstorming his way through, more by pluck than judgement, who threatened. Neno was out bravely to smother but the captain's example had lifted England.

Three minutes later Ferdinand, Barmby and Gascoigne combined before Stone crossed from the right. Neno, under pressure from Ferdinand, clattered into his right-back, Secretario who fell, bloodied, to the turf. His injury looked serious but he soon returned, swathed in bandages.

England were now looking sharp and Neno had to turn a Barmby cross over then watch, relieved, as a Ferdinand header flashed over his bar. Then, with a minute to go before the break, Stone struck. Barmby laid a throw- in back to Stuart Pearce whose cross was laid off, rather inadvertently, by Ferdinand. Stone, running in, drove it low past Neno from 25 yards.

Gascoigne had had a subdued half but was still involved in its best moment, before the goal, and its worse. On both occasions he played an unfamiliar role. First he was the patsy to a piece of outrageous skill, Figo dummying him and leaving him on his backside as he drove through midfield. It underlined the risk of using him as a midfield anchor but, fortunately, the Barcelona player could not find a pass to match his trickery.

Then, with Gascoigne in possession, Paolo Sousa sought to provoke him and, as Gascoigne momentarily flexed his elbows, Sousa fell as if hit by the night's guest of honour, Frank Bruno. The Norwegian referee, Rune Pedersen, did not fall for it but a booking may have been in order.

After Stone's goal, Sousa seemed to lose interest and it was no surprise when, like Figo, he did not re-emerge after the interval. Their replacements, Jose Dominguez and Alves, were more enthusiastic and, 14 minutes into the second period, they combined to force the equaliser.

Dominguez, the former Birmingham City striker, ran at England's defence, Sa Pinto dummied his pass and Alves thumped it past Seaman first time. The goal had been threatening, though England had had more possession. Folha and Dimas had gone close for the visitors.

Ferdinand, after a mixed performance, was withdrawn with a groin strain with 20 minutes left. His club-mate, Peter Beardsley, replaced him and Barmby moved forward alongside Shearer. Steve Howey and Jorge Costa were booked as both sides looked for a win. Dani shot wildly over and Gareth Southgate, making his debut as a late substitute, headed against the bar, but neither were able to secure it. If they are drawn together on Sunday they will start as equals.

ENGLAND (4-3-1-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Howey (Newcastle United), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Stone (Nottingham Forest), Gascoigne (Rangers), Wise (Chelsea); Barmby (Middlesbrough); Shearer (Blackburn Rovers), Ferdinand (Newcastle United). Substitutes: Beardsley (Newcastle United) for Ferdinand, 65; Southgate (Aston Villa) for Stone, 80; McManaman (Liverpool) for Barmby, 80; Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers) for Wise, 80.

PORTUGAL (4-1-3-2): Neno (Vitoria Guimares); Secretario (Porto), Fernando Couto (Parma), Jorge Costa (Porto), Dimas (Benfica); Helder (Benfica); Figo (Barcelona), Sousa (Juventus), Folha (Porto); Sa Pinto (Sp Lisbon), Joao Pinto (Benfica). Substitutes: Dominguez (Sporting Lisbon) for Sousa, h-t; Alves (Sporting Lisbon) for Figo, h-t; Dani (Sporting Lisbon) for Joao Pinto, 61; Pedro (Sporting Lisbon) for Folha, 68.

Referee: R Pedersen (Norway).

Last night's results, page 25