England overcame a tenacious Trinidad & Tobago side to reach the last 16 of the World Cup finals.
Late goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard secured the points for England, but for large parts of the game they looked a pale shadow of the team who had been tipped as potential winners of the tournament.
Sven Goran Eriksson will have much to ponder over the next few days, especially as England only really looked like breaching the Trinidad & Tobago defence when Wayne Rooney and Aaron Lennon were introduced. The changes facilitated a reshuffle for England, which helped them stretch the opposition and create some good openings late on.
Carragher had the first effort of the game, shooting from distance, but his effort didn’t trouble Hislop.
The first real chance fell to Owen when Hislop was unable to catch Lampard’s fierce drive but the rebound bounced off Owen’s thigh and away to safety.
Trinidad & Tobago were content to sit back and force England to pass the ball through them, something they struggled to achieve in the early stages. Instead, Sven Goran Eriksson’s side were happy to punt long balls to Peter Crouch in the hope that he could link the play up front. It was neither pretty nor particularly effective.
Crouch came closing to breaking the deadlock after good work from Joe Cole on the left. His cross reached the far post where Crouch, at full stretch , poked the ball just wide.
Territorially and possesion-wise England were dominant but other than a series of corners, they had precious little to show for their supremacy.
At the other end Dwight Yorke picked out Stern John with a deep cross and the Coventry striker headed just wide. It was a wake-up call for England, who appeared to be sleepwalking through the game in the belief that victory was theirs by right.
Five minutes from the interval Frank Lampard had England’s best chance but he volleyed over from close range. Moments later, Beckham cut inside onto his left foot but his curling shot was easily saved. As England began to create chances Beckham found Crouch unmarked eight yards out but the Liverpool forward miscued his volley.
In first-half stoppage time, John Terry spared England’s blushes as he acrobatically cleared off the line from John with the keeper Robinson stranded.
Despite England’s inability to manufacture many openings in the opening forty five minutes, Eriksson persevered with the same eleven after the break, although the sight of Wayne Rooney warming up in the interval, indicated that the young striker would soon be making his World Cup bow.
With Wayne Rooney preparing to come on Michael Owen should have given England the lead but he headed just wide from a Beckham free-kick. It was to Owen’s last meaningful contribution as he was subsequently replaced by Rooney. Eriksson also brought Aaron Lennon on for Jamie Carragher, prompting a reshuffle from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2.
The introduction of the two substitutes seemed to give England a short term boost and there was much more invention and pace to their play.
Crouch went close from another Beckham cross but the lanky striker headed over. Lampard went close from a well-worked short corner but he chipped his shot just over.
At the other end substitute Cornell Glen had a chance on the break but his run was halted by a last ditch tackle from Ashley Cole.
The chances were coming thick and fast for England and Lampard should have opened the scoring when set up by Crouch but he fired his shot straight at Hislop. Moments later Hislop was beaten by Lampard but the midfielder’s shot flashed inches wide.
With time running out England finally ended the stalemate through Peter Crouch who leapt Sancho above to head home a fine Beckham cross.
Gerrard added a gloss to the scoreline that England barely deserved with a wonderful left-footed strike in stoppage time.
England got the win they needed to reach the knckout stages but on the evidence of yet another unconvincing performance, the idea that they are one of the contenders to win the competition looks far-fretched.
The result might no be terminal to Trinidad & Tobago’s chances of qualifying and now they must await the outcome of the Paraguay-Sweden game to learn what they will have to do to reach the last 16.
England: Robinson, Carragher, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole, Owen, Crouch.
Subs: Rooney, Campbell, James, Bridge, Hargreaves, Jenas, Carrick, Lennon, Downing, Carson, Walcott, Neville.
Subs used: Rooney 58 (for Owen), Lennon 58 (for Carragher), Downing 75 (for Cole)
Bookings: Lampard 64
Trinidad & Tobago: Hislop, Edwards, Sancho, Lawrence, Gray, Birchall, Whitley, Yorke, Theobald, Stern John, Jones.
Subs: Cox, Latapy, Samuel, Glen, Wise, Charles, Scotland, Ince, Wolfe, Andrews, Jack.
Subs used: Glen 70 (for Jones), Wise 85 (for Theobald )
Bookings: Theobald 18, Whitley 19, Jones 45, Hislop 47, Gray 56,
Referee: Toru Kamikawa (Japan).
England: Crouch 83, Gerrard 91.