England a ‘Work in Progress’ Following Win Over T&T

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The New York Sun

NUREMBURG, Germany – England is progressing through this World Cup with maximum points but minimum panache.In a tougher-than-expected 2-0 win over Cup debutants Trinadad and Tobago yesterday, the English seemed to lack conviction and flair, but did provide fans with the intoxicating sight of Wayne Rooney – returning to action after missing six weeks with a broken bone in his foot – and goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard.

Rooney, inevitably rusty, brought belief, young Aaron Lennon brought pace and width,and England was able to take complete control of Group B. As one debate ends, several more begin. All the talk now will revolve feverishly around whether Rooney starts against Sweden on Tuesday, as he surely will. Now that the medical men have rightly had the final say and declared Rooney fit, the Manchester United striker needs matches after 47 days out of the fray.

Coach Sven Goran Eriksson has a big call to make: whether to omit Crouch or Michael Owen. Apart from his goal, Crouch offered little. Owen’s confidence is low, although he looked brighter than he did against Paraguay.

Problems persist elsewhere. David Beckham must be reminded that he causes most damage when staying out wide, from where he played terrific passes to set up both goals yesterday. When he drifts inside, hunting the ball, he gets in the way of Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

England also looked vulnerable to counter-attacks, and more potent opponents than Trinidad and Tobago will punish Eriksson’s side. The assessment of Trinidad and Tobago’s coach, Leo Beenhakker, was brutal and accurate: England require more patience and fewer long balls.With the 6-foot-7-inch Crouch standing out like a lighthouse, England is tempted to go long. More subtlety, less trajectory is needed.

The scoreless first half was particularly dire for the English, and “Calypso Collapso” headlines were being prepared. Passes went astray, attacks lacked conviction, Crouch met one inviting cross with the inelegance of a teenage giraffe, and the defense looked unconvincing against aerial assaults.

Lampard appeared to set England off on the right note, sending the ball flying goalward after five minutes. T &T goalkeeper Shaka Hislop was caught out by the speed and venom and parried the ball out. Owen, following up, was also deceived by the flight of the ball, which bounced off his knee and away.

At least Owen was more involved than against Paraguay, wriggling through a couple of challenges during one surge. England roamed down all avenues in search of goal. Ashley Cole sent Joe Cole scampering down the line, and his cross to the far post was met by the stretching Crouch. Only Hislop’s reac tions kept the ball out.

The men from the Caribbean also threatened. One Dwight Yorke cross cleared England keeper Paul Robinson, but striker Stern John headed wide.

As the first half clock dwindled, chants of “Rooney, Rooney” rang around the Frankenstadion, the fans’ desire for change accelerating when Stern John almost scored. Only a brilliant clearance from center back John Terry, who delivered a superb, steady performance, prevented the ball from crossing the line.

In the second half, England continued to press, and as the clock reached 80 minutes,it appeared Trinadad might get the scoreless draw it desired, the same as it earned against Sweden in its Cup opener. Suddenly, the English found nirvana. Stewart Downing, on for Joe Cole, drilled a cross-field pass from to Lennon, who headed back to Beckham. England immediately snapped into the old routine, the quick cross lifted to Crouch on the far post, where he rose above Brent Sancho and headed it past Hislop. Relief rolled in huge waves around England’s support.

“We’re not going home,” they chanted as England celebrated on the field.

They would celebrate again in injury time. Beckham was again involved, sliding the ball 25 yards out to Gerrard, who turned Aurtis Whitley inside out before dispatching the ball into the net with his left foot. A promising end, but England remains a work in progress.

The New York Sun

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