AFTER all the hysteria about history,
and Michael Owen's
record-breaking debut, Glenn Hoddle's players need to polish up on
their Latin. England's first defeat since meeting Brazil last summer was deservedly inflicted on them last night by Chile, whose passing prowess brought two goals for the outstanding Marcelo Salas. And Colombia await in the World Cup.
Hoddle will have learnt last night that Owen at least possesses the potential, the pace and poise to head for France.
Nicky Butt, too, did enough on his
first start to confirm that he is worth
persevering with in the five remaining squads before England head over the Channel. Dion Dublin, however, worked hard but found the clever Chilean defending ultimately too suffocating.
So eager for action, so keen to make their mark as Hoddle focuses on his party for France, England's players emerged first from their dressing room into the tunnel. Teddy Sheringham, who has seen it all before, chatted to Owen, who flexed his young legs in readiness for this new challenge, this next step in a career of galloping promise.
Chile, as was to be seen, were clearly finalizing their preparations, plans that were to embarrass England before the first half's final breath was exhaled. Salas, who was to score such a supreme goal, then brought his players out to be greeted with English smiles and stares.
The captains came face to face. Tony
Adams shook hands with Salas,
defensive lion meeting forward cheetah, and with that, the pair led the teams out to a deafening reception, the old stadium awash with flags and songs of praise.
The formalities dispensed with - the National Anthem was given a rousing rendition - the teams immediately began charging into each other. This was a friendly with a difference. There were no points to be made, just proved. Hoddle's selection, changed at the last minute by Andy Cole's training-ground injury, contained seven players who would not automatically be first-choice.
One of the seven, the record-breaking Owen, his pulse quickened by the possibility of World Cup involvement this summer, was soon to the fore.
Playing alongside Sheringham and just behind Dion Dublin, Owen was able to use his pace to break into any space that England could fashion.
Free passage proved increasingly limited, such was the organization and awareness of Chile's defence, for whom the tall, shaven-headed Javier Margas, a mobile man-mountain, was outstanding.
England's best chance of the half fell to Owen, following Nicky Butt's burst from the deep and Dublin's lay-off. Owen met the ball first time, a powerful shot speeding between red shirts only to be repelled by Nelson Tapia, Chile's alert goalkeeper.
These were moments of hope for England, of an experimental team playing with a measure of cohesion, of Dublin volleying a glorious first-time pass to Owen. Such perceived prosperity was not to last.
Chile, full of cunning and running, grew in confidence, gradually showing the sort of maturity in possession that was to bring them Salas' goal. With Jose Luis Sierra pulling the strings behind Salas and Rodrigo Berrera, Chile posed problems every time they ventured forward.
Already pressed by Chile's sharp movement, English ambitions were also tempered by three glaring inadequacies, from front to back.
Alan Shearer's target-man qualities, his adhesive touch under pressure, had been consigned to the bench. In midfield, Paul Gascoigne's ability to change the pace and angle of a move was sorely missed.
Further back, England also lacked a defender able to bring the ball out from the back; time after time, the ball was played along the back three, Hoddle's defenders pegged back by the quick movement and thinking of Chile's lively strikers.
Butt, making an encouraging first start, attempted to inject some fluidity into England's forward moves but, with Sheringham disappointing and Chile in determined, disciplined mood, home hopes flagged.
And so Chile stepped up a gear. A minute from the break, they conjured a goal as brilliant in creation as execution. Sierra's swept pass from just inside his own half completely caught out England's defence, the ball dropping unerringly towards Salas.
His response signalled why Alex Ferguson so admired him, why Lazio will today pay £12 million for the River Plate centre-forward. Without breaking stride, Salas cushioned the ball in his left thigh and then finished with his left foot as David Batty and Tony Adams trailed in his slipstream.
Chile's comfort in possession, their refusal to waste passes, continued to frustrate England, although the 62nd-minute introduction of two leaders, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer, improved England's options and urgency. Ince almost scored, meeting Owen's dinked cross well but placing his header too close to Tapia. Graeme Le Saux, who had replaced Phil Neville, also demanded a good save from Tapia.
Owen tried to set up a goal for Shearer when he got to the touch-line and then sent his cross towards the Newcastle player, but Fuentes was on hand to cut out the danger at the expense of a corner.
Lee's flag-kick found its way to Dublin but he was unable to keep his header down as another half chance went begging.
Unable to score, England's evening worsened 11 minutes from time. Again the Sierra-Salas combination opened up England. Salas, twisting each way, tricked Sol Campbell into fouling him inside the box.
Sierra's reverse pass found Salas in space and he tormented Campbell before turning past him for a third time, at which point a clumsy and needless tackle by the Tottenham defender led to an inevitable penalty.
Salas got up to take the kick himself and he sent Martyn the wrong way much to the delight of the 3,000 Chileans in the crowd. There was no doubt about the penalty, nor Salas' accuracy.
England have some homework to do.
Batty (Ince 62')
P. Neville (Le Saux 46')
Sheringham (Shearer 62')
Sierra (Valenzuela 88')
Barrera (Carreno 77')
Salas 45', 79'pen
Ref: R Wojcik (Poland).