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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
England blighted by inconsistency

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England have still not perfected the art of following one huge performance with another.

But qualification was everything on a sweltering afternoon in Osaka.

And this was mission accomplished.

It was perhaps too much to expect Sven-Goran Eriksson's England to scale the heights of Sapporo and the magnificent defeat of Argentina twice in less than a week.

And when you examine the list of World Cup casualties that now includes Argentina as well as the holders France, then England's safe passage from the so-called 'Group of Death' can be considered a job well done.

Rio Ferdinand was a towering presence for  England
Ferdinand was flawless once again

England were solid and unspectacular but made it safely through to next stage of a wonderfully open tournament.

It was hardly vintage football to send champagne corks popping.

But when you consider Euro 2000 and the Kevin Keegan team that actively sought out banana skins before inevitably falling over them - England's current campaign is more than satisfactory so far.

They may well have to discover the priceless commodity of real consistency in the next fortnight if they are to emerge as serious World Cup contenders.

And this will be a formula that will test Eriksson's tactical brain before the next stage.

Missing craft up front

Nigeria, given England's past history and the obvious dangers of a gifted African side free from any pressure, were an accident waiting to happen.

England never seriously looked like losing, so that in itself is progress.

If two great performances in a matter of days is a feat that eludes England as a team, the criticism cannot apply to defender Rio Ferdinand.

He was simply magnificent, and demonstrated exactly why Manchester United would be only one of a number of clubs in the hunt for his services should Leeds United be tempted by a 30m offer.

Open Quote
Beckham will be all the better for another full game, as will England
Close Quote

He held England's defence together in the shaky moments when the maverick skills of Nigeria threatened - and also helped out Sol Campbell and David Seaman when they occasionally looked vulnerable.

England will wonder how they failed to score against a goalkeeper as clearly calamitous as Vincent Enyeama, who produced a save completely out of character to brilliantly turn Paul Scholes' first-half drive on to a post.

And as the standard of the opposition increases, England may yet require the craft of Teddy Sheringham or Robbie Fowler to unlock the world's best defences.

Liverpool's Emile Heskey is a hugely willing runner and a battering ram in the old English tradition, but he does not look like a regular goalscorer at international level.

England's other plus came with another 90 minutes for captain David Beckham, who took a far more physical part in this game, and did more running in fierce heat and humidity, than he did in Saitama or under the Dome in Sapporo.

Beckham will be all the better for another full game, as will England.

Eriksson has insisted all along that his first mission was to ensure England had more football to play after 12 June - and it has been successfully completed.


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GROUP F
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SWEDEN 3 +1 5
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ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1




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