England showed at France 98 that, when they are fielding their best team and they play to their potential, Glenn Hoddle's side can mix it with the best on the globe.
They was nothing to choose between England and Argentina - who in turn were narrowly defeated by the Netherlands, who were unlucky against Brazil,who capitulated dismally to France in the final. Hence France, having taken two hours to beat Paraguay and been driven to penalties by Italy, ended up winning the World Cup without having a decent striker.
However, with no Paul Ince to provide bite and no David Beckham to provide creativity, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen were never going to be in for much of a service at Wembley on Saturday and an England side with a midfield consisting of the ageing Rob Lee, the overrated Jamie Redknapp and the enigmatic Paul Scholes with an ineffective Darren Anderton down the right and the lightweight Graeme Le Saux replacing Andy Hinchliffe on the left, facing a Bulgarian team pragmatically playing for a point after being foolishly written off as has-beens by the tabloid press, could never really cut the mustard over 90 minutes.
Ince will still be missing on Wednesday but Beckham is back and, like him or loathe him, the man who has progressed so rapidly he is now challenging Ryan Giggs for the title of best player at Manchester United could hold the key to England's qualification prospects.
Owen and Shearer will soon come to life granted a decent service and Shearer, who appears to be finally returning to his best after a worryingly subdued spell after his return from injury last season, looks a sound bet to score first (William Hill 3-1).Reuse content