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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 18:22 GMT 19:22 UK
England stumble on

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Nuremberg

Eriksson and his assistant Steve McClaren appear at a loss to know what to do
Eriksson and assistant boss Steve McClaren seem perplexed
England's World Cup campaign, instead of gathering momentum as coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and his players had assured a worried nation, almost ground to a halt in the stifling heat of Nuremberg.

If England are playing their way into the 2006 World Cup, they are doing it slowly. If they are going to make the strides they expect, they are going to have to do it quickly.

Eriksson's side got there eventually, but they left it late and did it with clear indications that England's World Cup mission is still very much a work in progress.

England faced resilient but limited opponents in Trinidad and Tobago, big on strength and pace but short on genuine quality.

And yet England looked for the first 80 minutes as if they were going to have to leave Nuremberg with only a point.

Peter Crouch's late goal and a brilliant second from Steven Gerrard brought huge relief after England struggled to put away Leo Beenhakker's well-organised team.

England's game had been a mis-shapen shambles

BBC Sport's Phil McNulty

There was a double irony in the goal that finally broke down the red wall of resistance presented by the Soca Warriors after 82 minutes.

Liverpool striker Crouch had been the target for England fans who wanted the early introduction of Wayne Rooney, restored to fitness complete with a glowing medical testimony.

And his far post header came from one of the few decent crosses that captain David Beckham was able to deliver.

Rooney finally entered the fray after 57 minutes in an attempt to lift an England performance that had been little short of an abject mess up to that point.

England's game had been a mis-shapen shambles, while a midfield so full of talent once again mystifyingly failed to function.

And even at the back, the underdogs were allowed to trouble England in a way that was disturbing given the greater tests that lie ahead.

Aaron Lennon
Lennon's pace and direct running lifted England

Rooney replaced Michael Owen, a man still as desperately in search of form and fitness when he left the Frankenstadion as he was when he arrived.

Indeed Eriksson now faces a major selection dilemma ahead of the final group game against Sweden.

Now Rooney is back in the fray and clearly indispensable to Eriksson's plans, does he stick with an off-the-pace Owen or continue with Crouch, desperately erratic but at least in the goals and on the end of chances?

For all the euphoria of Rooney's introduction, it was Spurs' youngster Aaron Lennon, on for Jamie Carragher, who actually had the greater impact with a cameo performance of verve and pace on the right-flank.

He ran at Trinidad and Tobago's defence until it cracked, and has staked a real claim as an impact substitute.

And Middlebrough's Stewart Downing also gave England a much-needed injection of pace down the left flank.

Crouch broke them down before Gerrard completed the job by reviving memories of the FA Cup final by lashing an unstoppable long-range drive past Shaka Hislop in the final seconds.

So all was well that ended well, and at least England put to bed their tag of being a lacklustre team in the second half.

Two games have brought two indifferent performances but two wins - the table looks perfect, but the team itself is still well short of that standard.

SEE ALSO
Terry Butcher's England view
16 Jun 06 |  England
Alan Shearer on England's attack
15 Jun 06 |  England
England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago
15 Jun 06 |  World Cup 2006
England team guide
22 May 06 |  England
World Cup profiles
29 May 06 |  England
Pick your England team
08 May 06 |  Squad selectors
World Cup schedule
25 May 06 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage


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