FINESSE in football is nothing without
finish. For all Portugal's pretty
patterns at Wembley last night, they patently lacked the cutting edge so thrillingly contained in England's attack. The old firm of Alan Shearer, who scored twice, and Teddy Sheringham provided the three goals that put the Three Lions' World Cup preparations back on course.
England's best performances came in both boxes: Shearer was outstanding, a captain leading by example, while David Seaman ensured England were not embarrassed when the Portuguese flowed forward.
Portugal's clever possession game, a tactic that spiced an open first half, would have worried Wembley but for Shearer's fifth minute goal. Not for the first or last time, Graeme Le Saux exploited a surprising amount of space on the left to create Shearer's 17th goal in 37 internationals.
Given the ball by Sheringham near the flag, Le Saux looked up and, rolling back the years to Blackburn Rovers' championship season, delivered a perfect cross to the far post. Shearer, having shaken off Beto, guided a typically ruthless header past Barcelona's Vitor Baia.
But the Portuguese soon showed why
they are rated as the most
accomplished team not to have qualified for the summer's pageant. Building confidently, always prepared to change the speed of their forward momentum, they began creating some chances. How they lacked a Shearer or Sheringham to convert all that wonderful creativity.
Portugal kept hinting at a goal. Luis Figo, exchanging passes exquisitely with Joao Pinto, advanced menacingly on Seaman. The Barcelona player should have scored but, instead of placing a shot either side of England's goalkeeper, he elected to chip. The ball dropped wide and England counted their blessings. What a contrast this was to Sheringham's composed strike when one-on-one with Baia early in the second half.
Still Portugal threatened, determined to prove to the world what France 98 will miss. Paulo Sousa and Paulinho Santos, Calado and Figo held the ball in their mesmeric sway, playing passes out wide or cutting a swathe through England's midfield. These were troubled times for Hoddle's players, their unease in the face of such deft opponents graphically seen when David Batty welcomed Joao Pinto to the Venue of Leg ache.
But such experiences, such examinations of players' capabilities, are the point of warm up matches. Batty may even learn that World Cup officials will censure anything agricultural. Fortunately for England, Paul Ince was working hard, tracking Portuguese insurgents, ensuring Sousa never claimed the midfield. In defence, Tony Adams stood firm. Gary Neville, understudying for the slightly unwell Gareth Southgate, was his normal nimble and alert self, importantly so as much of Portugal's threat flowed from the visitors' left.
On Portugal came, brimming with ideas, clearly eager to impress their new coach, Humberto Coelho, a distinguished former international. Calado, released by Joao Pinto, tested the reflexes of Seaman, rapidly becoming England's most important performer. He was also assisted by some anaemic finishing, such as when Joao Pinto missed after Jorge Cadete had seized on a horrible mix-up between Le Saux and Batty.
Le Saux was showing the good and bad in his game, occasionally being turned at the back but also foraging forward and almost scoring, from Shearer's well-judged through pass. Shearer and Sheringham then set up David Beckham, hitherto quiet. The Manchester United youngster cut into the box and brought an excellent tip-over save from Baia. Clearly, the work Beckham has done on his left foot is beginning to bear fruit.
The opening half climaxed with England again indebted to Seaman. More confusion in Hoddle's defence allowed Joao Pinto a clear sight of goal but the Arsenal goalkeeper, spreading himself well, blocked the shot.
New half, old story. Portugal continued to pressure, with Joao Pinto and Sousa to the fore, but England's cutting edge was the sharper. Scarcely a minute into the half, England extended their advantage, albeit in fortuitous fashion. When the ball deflected off the referee, Sheringham was through. As Baia advanced, the United forward lifted the ball calmly over him for his ninth international goal.
Still Portugal pushed and probed, Cadete even bringing a near-post save from Seaman, but the simple truth was that England made more from fewer chances. After 65 minutes, Shearer added a third, following a lovely left-wing move that flowed from Le Saux to Batty, whose hooked cross field pass to Shearer tore the crowd from their seats. As Wembley roared him on, Shearer allowed the ball to bounce once before crashing it on the volley past Baia. Glorious stuff.
Seaman again showed his importance with three great saves, from Fernando Couto, Oceano Cruz and Joao Pinto, while Michael Owen confirmed his promise with two stirring runs, and deserved a late penalty when clipped by Baia. Before then, Capucho was dismissed, ostensibly for a foul from behind on Paul Scholes plus an ill-advised touch of throat-clearing.
G. Neville (P. Neville 81')
Beckham (Merson 45')
Sheringham (Owen 77')
Dimas (Barbosa 54)
Sousa (Oceano 75')
Joao V Pinto (Capucho 68')
Joao M Pinto
Ref: M D Vega (Spain).