England beat Paraguay 4-0 at Anfield on Wednesday night as Sven-Goran Eriksson's
England beat Paraguay 4-0 at Anfield on Wednesday night as Sven-Goran Eriksson's side signed off their World Cup preparations on home soil in some style...
England 4-0 Paraguay
17 April 2002
Nobody would expect the games that lie ahead this summer to be won as convincingly as this and you cannot rely on the level of luck that tonight brought England two deflected goals before Ayala put through his own net for England's fourth, but, make no mistake, this was a performance of impressive caliber that will send the Three Lions off to Korea and Japan in deservedly confident mood.
The last time that the England roadshow had come to Anfield it was for Sven-Goran Eriksson's first competitive game against Finland. The 2-1 victory that day had set the World Cup qualification surge in motion and there had been a sense of relaxed confidence oozing through the England camp as they looked forward to their return this week.
Led by a captain who himself knows a thing or two about playing at Anfield, England set about their task with an early relish.
Darius Vassell slipped straight back into the top gear he found so naturally on his first two appearances for England and the Aston Villa striker's pace and sharpness was quite magnificent as he dictated the play for the opening ten minutes.
England's early dominance was translated into a goal on four minutes when captain Michael Owen rose majestically to nod home his club-mate Steven Gerrard's excellently taken free-kick from the right.
It was a picture goal and the whole of Anfield seemed to be motionless as Owen leapt to convert a strike that he and Gerrard must have practiced on infinite occasions on the training pitch for both club and country down the years.
On the left flank Kieron Dyer made a welcome return to the international stage and, although he never quite recaptured the explosive form that he has been displaying for Newcastle of late, simply having his pace and skill as an option will have been a boost both to Sven and his teammates.
One excellent flick round the corner from the Newcastle playmaker in the first half found Vassell in a dangerous position but the move was almost too quick for even this livewire pairing to bring it to fruition.
Sven made a number of changes at half-time but England's momentum was never threatened by the alterations.
Indeed Danny Murphy's strike on 47 minutes came courtesy of excellent work from three of the new faces.
Joe Cole danced to the byline and cut his cross back to former Anfield favourite, Robbie Fowler. The Leeds striker, who seems to be coming of age in the international arena, showed his trademark composure in the box, laying an inch-perfect ball back to Murphy who was lurking on the edge of the area. The Liverpool man curled it towards goal before a deflection left Taverelli with no hope of making a save.
The goal decided the game as a contest and will give Murphy hope that he has done enough to convince Sven that he is worthy of a World Cup place.
Then, on 54 minutes a devilish Joe Cole back heel let in Vassell whose long-range left foot strike took another significant deflection in its way to becoming England's third goal of what was becoming an ever-more memorable night.
The goal may not be the best that Vassell will score in what looks destined to be a glittering career but it was just reward for a fine display which must all but guarantee his ticket to Japan.
England's lead was stretched further mid-way through the second-half when Fowler's pin-point cross was met by Sheringham and went in for an own goal off Ayala to complete a night of highly contrasting fortunes for the two sides.
Paraguay, chiefly though Gavilan and the imposing Roque Santa Cruz, showed themselves to be a dangerous threat on the break but, on this occasion, it was most definitely England who possessed the real cutting edge.
If the goals sent the crowd home happy, the name that will have been on many of their lips as they sauntered away to pick their own World Cup squads will have been that of Joe Cole.
You could almost see the diminutive midfielder smiling as he raced around the pitch with the enthusiasm of a man desperate to show the world his talents.
The comparison with Paul Gascoigne pre the 1990 World Cup is unmistakable - as is the young man's talent. However, whether Cole is yet at the stage where he can affect games quite in the same way that Gascoigne did remains open to question.
12 years ago Bobby Robson took the gamble and it paid off for him handsomely as his Geordie genius enchanted the whole of football with his wizardry.
Will Cole will be offered the same chance to dazzle on the biggest stage of all this summer? The answer will only become certain when the curtain rises on Sven's crucial cast next month.
From Daniel Freedman at Anfield
England: Seaman, Gary Neville (Carragher 68), Keown (Murphy 45), Southgate (Sheringham 68), Bridge (Phil Neville 68), Butt (Sinclair 45), Gerrard (Hargreaves 45), Scholes (Mills 45), Dyer (Fowler 45), Owen (Joe Cole 45), Vassell (Lampard 68).
Subs Not Used: Martyn, James.
Paraguay: Tavarelli, Arce, Ayala, Gamarra (Julio Cesar Caceres 81), Caniza, Gavilan (Sarabia 57), Bonet (Morinigo 82), Struway, Paredes, Cardozo (Richart Baez 60), Santa Cruz.
Subs Not Used: Villar, Carlos Sanabria, Enciso, Edgar Baez.
Referee: Cosimo Bolognino (Italy)