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Saturday, June 17, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

England's performance against minnow doesn't bode well


MUNICH -- Two years ago at Euro 2004 Swiss referee Urs Meier received death threats after disallowing Sol Campbell's potentially winning "goal" for England against Portugal because of a foul by John Terry, a subjective decision but one to which video evidence gives credence.

Christopher Davies

At the 2006 World Cup finals the now retired Meier is working as a television pundit, and on Thursday night the German TV program he appears on highlighted a foul by England's Peter Crouch on Brent Sancho, the Trinidad and Tobago defender, as he headed the opening goal in the 83rd minute of its 2-0 win. This correspondent wondered at the time why the Gillingham player did not challenge as Crouch headed the ball past Shaka Hislop.

Meier's program revealed the reason -- using slow motion and closing in on the two players, it was shown that Crouch pulled Sancho's dreadlocks as David Beckham's cross came over.

Sancho's head was yanked 90 degrees, he never stood a chance of offering even a token jump.

How ironic that Meier should highlight a challenge far worse that Terry's with the 2006 perpetrator getting away with it and scoring.

It says much about England's mediocre performance that it had to resort to illegal tactics to break down a stubborn T & T.

The problem with cheating is that when England does it, the attitude tends to be sweeping it under the proverbial rug.

It is unlikely that Toru Kamikawa, the Japanese referee who could have been expected to spot Crouch's sly tug, will be treated by West Indian supporters as Meier was by England fans.

Crouch had wasted some good earlier chances and said: "I am disappointed with the misses, but you can't let your head go down," -- an unfortunate choice of words as the way he held on to Sancho's hair ensured his marker's head could not go up.

There is nothing FIFA can do retrospectively, and Kamikawa cannot be blamed for missing the dreadlock deadlock.

Many will say opponents have cheated against England -- "look at Maradona punching the ball in the goal in Mexico '86" -- but two or however many wrongs do not make a right.

You can call what Crouch did professional -- in the heat of the moment -- but had a T & T player done the same against England and it had gone on to win, all hell would have been let loose by the English red tops and the extremist element among the national side's support.

Putting aside the legality of his header, Crouch has scored six goals in nine matches for England.

All Crouch's goals have come in his last five games including a hat trick against Jamaica. The 201-cm striker was expected to be a Plan B substitute but was promoted to starter because of injuries to Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.

Rooney, whose broken metatarsal has occupied a rain forest of newspaper print, was finally given the all-clear to play by specialists and made his World Cup debut as a substitute in the 58th minute, replacing Owen, the Newcastle striker clearly unfit after last month's return from a broken foot sustained six months ago.

Not surprisingly, Rooney too looked sluggish, even against limited opposition, and England must hope the pair can improve their fitness in the final group game against Sweden.

England's win over T & T ensures it of a place in the second round along with probably Sweden,though mathematically it could still be caught by the Soca Warriors.

"We showed a lot of patience, it's always difficult against a team who defend with nine or 10 men behind the ball every time they lose it," said Sven-Goran Eriksson, though England fans will argue a team of Premiership multimillionaires should be able to break down even stubborn resistance from international journeymen.

Defending England's performance against the smallest nation at the finals, Eriksson said: "If we play one of the big teams in this tournament, it will not be a match like that. It will be completely different, and we will be better and better. Wins give you more confidence."

Asked if it was a good England display, captain David Beckham said: "It was a performance of togetherness, not our best performance but one where we all had to dig in.

"We know we can do better than this, and we know that there's better to come. The most important thing is two games and six points."

That's a "no" then.

Rooney's remarkable recovery from the injury sustained on April 29 has fully vindicated Eriksson's decision last month to name the Manchester United striker to his World Cup squad, though whether the player will be fit enough to play to his potential is still questionable.

England, which labored to a 1-0 win over Paraguay last Saturday courtesy of an own goal, cannot be accused of peaking too early.

Ecuador, likely, will be its second-round opponent though Germany is the other option.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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