reports from Wembley
The last time England drew 0-0 with Uruguay at Wembley it led to World Cup triumph so this result should not be unduly dismissed. However, it is England's second-half performance, rather than the omens of history, which will provide succour for Terry Venables.
The England coach would have been granted his fifth win in seven matches if Andy Cole had taken a late chance to score a debut goal. Victory would have been deserved, even if England's increasing dominance had as much to do with Uruguay's lack of enterprise and jet-lag as any English superiority.
It was not one of England's better performances and their lack of invention when faced with a tight defence was particularly disappointing. But there were encouraging signs, notably in the performance of Darren Anderton. The Tottenham winger was given his international debut in Venables' first game as England coach a year ago and he has matured so rapidly that most of England's best moves stemmed from, or ended with him.
On the debit side John Barnes was again booed, the Liverpool midfielder bearing the brunt of fans' dissatisfaction at a dull first half in which Barnes typified England's lack of ambition. Ironically, Barnes switched from his theoretically attacking role to a defensive holding position in the second half and played so well the boos stopped.
The small crowd of 34,849 did, however, respond to appeals to respect the Uruguayan national anthem before the match. Unfortunately that spirit was not carried into the game and, although there was no outright nastiness, the Uruguayan side did show glimpses of their infamous brutishness and suffered four bookings - a high figure for a friendly.
All four cautions, and one for Graeme Le Saux, came in the last hour - there had been little to get excited about earlier with the first 30 minutes the most impoverished of Venables' reign.
In the England goal Tim Flowers did nothing whatsoever in this period. At the other end Oscar Ferro had only to deal with two weak efforts from Anderton. There was, however, a vital block by Diego Lopez after Anderton has set up Peter Beardsley, and a miskick by Teddy Sheringham after another Anderton break.
The poorly supported Sheringham had a difficult game. While he linked well with Anderton and Beardsley outside the box he rarely looked dangerous in it. His best chance, a 56th-minute header from a Beardsley cross, floated harmlessly over. His best chance of an England future would appear to be as a potential inside- forward, not as a central striker; an understudy for Beardsley rather than Alan Shearer.
But that job may be taken. Beardsley's long-term replacement, Nick Barmby, was given his debut just after the hour and looked lively. His appearance made him the first pupil from the Football Association's National School to graduate to full honours - he beat Cole by seven minutes.
Cole's chance, which came 12 minutes from the end and seven minutes after he came on, was England's last. A half-cleared corner came back to Anderton, his deep cross was headed back by Tony Adams, and Cole - unmarked and six yards from goal - headed against the bar. Gary Lineker, whose predatory role Cole aspires to, said he should have done better.
Cole will know that, and he will remember the first-minute chance he wasted on his Manchester United debut earlier this season. Soon after that he was scoring five in a game. That is unlikely to happen for England but, since their next match is against Japan at Wembley in June, it is not beyond the bounds of credibility.
Cole's miss could have proved costly for, with a minute left, an error by Rob Jones allowed Debray Silva an even better chance but he shot wildly over.
With Gustavo Poyet, who will face Chelsea in the European Cup-Winners' Cup with Real Zaragoza this week, also heading wide from a good position England were not without alarm at the back. Indeed, considering how rarely Uruguay attacked, England's defensive frailty was worrying.
However, it was England who came closest to scoring and who created the few chances that came from open play. The best move came on 54 minutes after Jones had done well to win possession on the left. The ball was switched neatly and rapidly across the box to Anderton whose shot was deflected wide by Ferro's legs.
That earlier goalless encounter with Uruguay was far more frustrating than last night. It was the opening game of the 1966 World Cup and thoroughly dampened the country's mood. However, we all know what happened once Alf Ramsey made some modifications. Venables too, still has work to do.
The prospect of England being seriously competitive in next summer's European Championship is still a real one but, given the increasing influence of youth on the side, and the lack of games before the Championships, France and the 1998 World Cup may be a more realistic target.
ENGLAND (4-1-3-2): Flowers (Blackburn Rovers); Jones, (Liverpool), Pallister (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers); Venison (Newcastle United); Anderton (Tottenham Hotspur), Platt (Sampdoria), Barnes (Liverpool); Sheringham (Tottenham Hotspur), Beardsley (Newcastle United). Substitutes: McManaman (Liverpool) for Le Saux h-t; Barmby (Tottenham) for Beardsley 64; Cole (Manchester United) for Sheringham 71
URUGUAY (4-5-1): Ferro (Pearol); Lopez (River Plate), Aguirregaray (Pearol), Gutierrez (Nacional), Montero (Atalanta); Cedres (River Plate), Bengoechea (Pearol), Dorta (Pearol), Francescoli (River Plate), Poyet (Real Zaragoza); Fonseca (Roma). Substitute: D Silva (Pearol) for Francescoli, 85.
Referee: H Krug (Germany).
European Championship reports, page 47
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