ENGLAND'S ability to withstand adversity on foreign fields was witnessed again here at the Mohammed V stadium last night yet victory was achieved at a cost. Ian Wright damaged his left hamstring, so making him doubtful for the World Cup.
On the credit side, Wright's replacement,
Michael Owen, opened his
international account with a fine 59th-minute goal as England prospered from a half-time switch to 4-4-2. By the end, the Moroccan crowd were cheering England.
If the sorry sight of Wright limping
away cast a shadow over England's
penultimate warm-up match, Glenn Hoddle will have taken encouragement from other developments. Paul Ince's injury scare proved a touch of Hoddle hoodwinking. The Liverpool player worked ceaselessly in midfield, combining well with a diligent if not creatively dynamic Paul Gascoigne, who lasted the 90 minutes well. Steve McManaman and Tim Flowers strengthened their claims for inclusion in France.
Until the second half brought a better shape and Owen's marvellous finish on only his fourth international, Hoddle's visitors must have felt like accidental tourists. Led out by Ince, England's players stood for a national anthem that was stirring enough but bore no resemblance to God Save The Queen.
Ince rallied his players around him and defiantly sung the words. Meanwhile, a Moroccan master of ceremonies desperately tried to halt the band in full flow, a cameo that captured the almost farcical back-stage incompetence of the Hassan II Cup. Play it again, indeed.
If the start bordered on the comical, the match began to produce some first-half tremors for England. The 24th-minute injury to Wright was cruel indeed, the Arsenal striker simply a victim of his own desire to prove himself to Hoddle. Back he chased, brimming with determination to close down Saber, Morocco's flying right-back.
Wright never reached Saber. Within
whispering distance of a horrified
England bench, Wright fell to earth like a winged bird of prey, lutching his left leg. Poor Wright. He had over-extended his hamstring, the bane of a high-speed striker's life. Wright lay on the ground until helped to the side, from where he made a slow, painful retreat to the dressing room, his leg now heavily strapped.
This deeply depressing sight was almost followed by another. Just as Wright was limping down the tunnel, generous Moroccan applause still ringing out behind him, Owen was sent crashing to the turf. Owen had been chasing Graeme Le Saux's long pass when Morocco's keeper, Benzakri, caught him in the face.
Dion Dublin reacted quickest, turning the prostrate Owen on his side to keep the air channel clear. Owen lay there, his upper body still but his feet flicking, until the doctors and physios were able to bring him round. Owen, still slightly groggy, eventually returned to a match he was soon to leave an indelible mark on.
The new half saw Hoddle change from 3-5-2. Le Saux operated more as an orthodox left-back, while Martin Keown pushed out to right-back. As McManaman started weaving his magic down the left, England were gambolling down memory lane with 4-4-2.
Suddenly, things began clicking into place. Ince and Gascoigne claimed the middle ground, Gascoigne as much through running off the ball as actual time in possession. Out wide, McManaman spread England's wings.
England began to put Morocco on the back foot, began to turn the fans against their idols. The pressure on Henri Michel's hosts mounted. Dublin headed Le Saux's corner over and then Owen shimmied through only to lose out to Rossi. After the early storm and the disappointment over Wright's departure, England looked calm and confident in their new shape.
Eventually, the breakthrough was achieved. It all started down in England's left-back position, where Sol Campbell showed his persistence to regain possession. Soon the ball was being dribbled down the left by McManaman, the Liverpool midfielder showing touch and tenacity in the presence of three Moroccans. Then, when Owen appeared in space, McManaman clipped the ball forward and his club-mate was clear, spinning away from a final marker before sliding the ball past Benzakri.
England will play a final warm-up
match before the World Cup against
French second division club Caen, behind closed doors on June 9.
Chiba (Amzine 63)
Chippo (Sellami 79)
Ouakili (Reda 73)
Rokki (El Khattabi 63)
Dublin (L. Ferdinand 79)
Wright (Owen 26)
Ref: M Daami (Tunisia).