China 0 England 3
There were concrete dragons in the stands and imagined devils in the pitch but neither troubled England yesterday as they emerged unruffled and unscathed from their first encounter with Chinese football.
Their hosts played well enough for England to be tested but an upset rarely looked likely. By the end, with England in easy control, the 65,000 crowd had turned on their own, chanting "dismiss" and cheering every England move.
It was a sweet sound for Terry Venables, whose preference for an Asian tour was justified by the way his team handled a potentially difficult fixture. Nick Barmby scored twice and Paul Gascoigne once. Neither had previously scored under Venables, Barmby had never done so for England while Gascoigne's last goal was in autumn 1993.
Equally important was the successful return of Tony Adams, who played 76 minutes before allowing Ugo Ehiogu a first taste of international football. Adams was helped by the decision to revert to a flat back four as China looked to push forward in numbers. Alongside him Gareth Southgate looked as polished a conventional central defender as he had done in the free role on Saturday.
With a composed debut from Phil Neville and excellent performances from Gascoigne and Darren Anderton it was no wonder Venables looked delighted at the end.
Wisely he refrained from declaring the tour a success. There are four days to go yet, with another fixture to be negotiated in Hong Kong on Sunday. "That game could have been very difficult but I thought both the team and individual play was very good indeed," Venables said. "They could have got caught up in that atmosphere but they didn't. They took the sting out of it. China are a good side. Some will say that at 3-0 they're not that good. But that's not the case and their results prove it."
China's footballing merits aside, Sunday's game should be a stroll. The most significant thing about the match will be the team selection.
It gets harder to pick Venables' probable Euro 96 squad with every game, and the coach is unlikely to find it any easier himself. This match was supposed to give Barmby enough rope to play himself out: his club form has been abysmal; he had not scored since January; and he had rarely looked like doing so.
When, after 23 minutes he failed to convert a chance created by Gascoigne, heads nodded and Barmby's looked about to roll. He had been busy but largely ineffective. Seven minutes later Anderton drifted past his man and slipped a pass to Barmby. He drew the goalkeeper, steered the ball past him, but hit the post. Even fate seemed against him.
Then his fortune turned. The ball rebounded back into his path and, though it came at a difficult height, he scored with aplomb. The confidence flowed back into his game and, eight minutes after half-time, he added an exquisite second, chipping the goalkeeper after a sweeping passing move between Gary Neville, Anderton and Gascoigne. There followed a cross from which McManaman almost converted and, by the time he gave way to Beardsley, he was back in the 22.
He could even have had a hat-trick but decided against poaching Gascoigne's goal. Judging by the way Gascoigne celebrated it was a good job he did not. Gascoigne's joy was deserved: he had an excellent game and his 62nd- minute goal was cheekily taken with the outside of his foot following a classy one-two with Anderton. He faded slightly towards the end of each half and looked shattered at the end but, given his tireless industry, that was not too surprising. It was certainly not because he had worn himself out on the Great Wall. Gascoigne was one of the few players not to visit the attraction on Wednesday.
Gascoigne should have had his goal after two minutes, shooting over after Anderton and Shearer had set him up. On reflection it was a good thing he did not, as a goal then may have deflated the Chinese so much England would not have been stretched. As it was China, roared on by a raucous crowd, had their moments. They dominated the final third of the first half, with Gao Fen looking quite a player in attack. Perhaps Harry Redknapp will add him to West Ham United Nations next year.
The only disappointment was the failure of either Alan Shearer or his replacement, Robbie Fowler, to score. Each only managed one shot; they should have more chances on Sunday.
CHINA (4-3-1-2): Ou Quliang (Guangdong); Wei Qun (Sichuan), Xu Hone (Dalian), Fan Ziyi (Shanghai), Li Hong Ju (Yanbian); Xie Yuxing (Guangzchou), Jiang Feng (Liaoning), Ma Mingyu (Guandong); Li Bing (Guandong); Gao Fen (Peking), Hao Haidong (Army). Substitutes: Gao Zhangxun (Yanbian) for Jiang Fen, 33; Peng (Guangzhou) for Li Bing, h/t; Mi Ling (Dalian) for Xie Yuxing, h/t.
ENGLAND (4-4-1-1): Flowers (Blackburn); G Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), P Neville (Manchester United); Anderton (Tottenham), Redknapp (Liverpool), Gascoigne (Rangers), McManaman (Liverpool); Barmby (Middlesbrough); Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes: Walker (Tottenham) for Flowers, 63; Fowler (Liverpool) for Shearer, 71; Beardsley (Newcastle) for Barmby, 71; Ehiogu (Aston Villa) for Adams, 76; Stone (Nottingham Forest) for McManaman, 80.
Referee: P Collina (Italy).
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