Cameroon issue statement of intent

 

COUNTDOWN TO THE WORLD CUP/Cameroon 2 England 2: England remain unbeaten in the Far East, following their draw against an average South Korea side with another against opposition optimistic they have the range of talents to take them past the last eight when the World Cup gets underway.

It was a day for positive thinking. Whereas after last Tuesday's game in Seogwipo, a host of negatives sprang to mind, yesterday's almost equally incoherent draw felt slightly more comforting.

The manner of Sven-Goran Eriksson's post-match chat, the positive reports on David Beckham and Nicky Butt and the enthusiasm of Kieron Dyer brought a degree of reassurance that had been missing.

Eriksson even thought it a good match, "considering we are one week away from the World Cup".

But, if the purpose of dress rehearsals is to replicate the real thing, then the reason Eriksson appeared relatively satisfied was because he would probably take two bad draws against Sweden and Argentina in England's next two games. That would leave England needing to beat Nigeria to see if five points would take them through to the second round.

That may seem a limited ambition but, given the circumstances regarding injuries and the sheer hopelessness Eriksson had emitted before, it is at least realistic for a team that finished with a midfield quartet of Danny Mills, Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves and Trevor Sinclair.

It is hard to imagine any of them getting into the French or Italian squads, for example, yet Hargreaves was energetic, if too enthusiastic in some of his tackling, Cole kept going in his first full 90 minutes for his country and restrained his trickery, while Sinclair rescued some self-esteem.

There were other reasons to be moderately cheerful. Darius Vassell scored again, Michael Owen was sharp and Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes once again offered reminders of their quality. But it all has to be seen in the context of a poor overall performance.

It was Scholes's clean pass through the Cameroon defence that released Vassell to equalise in the 10th minute after Samuel Eto'o had volleyed the African champions in front.

Both goals owed much to composure, Eto'o reacting first to Pierre Wome's cross shot that came back off Nigel Martyn's crossbar, but that was not as impressive as Vassell's assured control and quick shot to beat Alioum Boukar.

Vassell is now Owen's most likely partner on Sunday and is increasingly comfortable in that role. Certainly, he is more advanced in squad terms than the man who replaced him, Robbie Fowler. Fowler did illuminate his 15 minutes with a goal in injury-time, a clever header from Wes Brown's free-kick, but Vassell has the speed that Fowler does not possess.

Vassell displayed it best in a first-half that was superior to the second. There were still some bad moments from England before the interval and Cameroon suggested they could increase the tempo significantly at any time. Marc-Vivien Foe and Lauren provided force in midfield and Eto'o was powerful ahead of them.

The standard rash of half-time substitutes meant it was Gareth Southgate who was fooled into a handball by Eto'o and David James will be disappointed that the England wall he organised left room for Geremi to drill in a free-kick.

James later fumbled a cross as he collided with Brown and, as the rhythm of play began to disintegrate, other Englanders provided little errors for Eriksson to ponder. Wayne Bridge, Martin Keown, Mills and Sinclair each raised questions over basic control and passing. Emile Heskey did nothing. "Work to do," said Eriksson.

Watching in the stands, Mick McCarthy departed shortly before the end. By then, presumably, the Republic of Ireland manager had seen enough of Cameroon to confirm that the Irish will have a tough time on Saturday.

It is an afternoon kick-off, Japan time, about the same hour that Eriksson will know if his positives outweigh the negatives for the following day.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Martyn (James, h-t); Brown, Ferdinand (Southgate, h-t), Campbell (Keown, h-t), Bridge; J Cole, Hargreaves, Scholes (Mills, h-t), Heskey (Sinclair, h-t); Owen (Sheringham, h-t), Vassell (Fowler, 75).

CAMEROON (1-4-3-2): Boukar (Songo'o, 78); Song (Ndo, 68); Geremi (Alnoudji, 66), Kalla (Mettomo, 56), Tchato, Wome (Njanka, 61); Olembe (Ngom Kome, 53), Foe (Djemba-Djemba 53), Lauren (Epalle, 59); Eto'o (Suffo, 59), Mboma (Ndiefi, 66).

Referee: Y Katayama (Japan).