England got their World Cup campaign underway with a narrow 1-0 win over a dogged Paraguayan side.
Tipped as possible winners of the World Cup, England will have been pleased with result but the manner of their performance is unlikely to have caused concern among their rivals for the title.
For their part, Paraguay looked toothless up front but they left the field disappointed that they were unable to translate their possession into any meaningful chances.
England went ahead from their first attack after just three minutes. A trademark Beckham free-kick flicked off the head of Paraguay defender Carlos Gamarra and flew past the despairing dive of Villar.
To compound Paraguay’s problems, Villar then came charging out of his goal to deny Owen but the keeper immediately went down with an injury and was replaced shortly afterwards by Aldo Bobadilla. His first act was to parry the ball away for a corner as the Paraguayan defence panicked under England pressure.
It’s one-way traffic in the early stages, with England camped in Paraguay’s half and Crouch and Owen causing disarray in the Paraguayan defence.
Paraguay eventually began to settle and Riveros had their first attempt on target on 18 minutes, but his shot was saved by the outstretched arms of Robinson. Gerrard, who made a valiant effort to block the strike was booked for his troubles.
Lampard then drew a smart save from Bobadilla after a neat exchange involving Cole and Crouch.
The remainder of the first half was a scrappy affair with the game littered with fouls as both teams struggled to cope with the scorching temperature.
Paraguay eventually roused themselves and nearly levelled the scores when Ashley Cole slipped and was dispossessed. The ball was worked towards Valdez whose volley flashed inches wide with a scrambling Robinson beaten.
The opening minutes of the second half continued in pretty much the same vein as the opening period with both sides struggling to create any attacking impetus. Paraguay’s failure to create a genuine goal threat was matched only by England’s inability to retain possession.
On the hour mark, Cole, who looked England’s brightest player, won possession and shot from distance but his effort was easily saved. The ball was immediately switched to the other end and Robinson did well to deny the threat.
England’s best move of the half saw Neville advance into the area but his cross was weakly struck and the ball was cleared up field to Valdez who cut in from the right and shot straight at Robinson.
In a rare foray forward for England, Lampard was found on the edge of the box and his snap shot brought a finger tip save from Bobadilla.
The match petered out in the closing minutes with England content to hold what they had, while Paraguay, despite enjoying plenty of possession, never looked creating the opening that would bring parity.
The final whistle was greeted with roars of relief by the huge English contingent in the stadium. However, they will know, that on this evidence, England look a long way short of being considered potential winners.
England: Robinson, G Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, A Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Owen, Crouch.
Subs: Downing 56 (for Owen), Hargreaves 82 (for J Cole)
Bookings: Gerrard 18, Crouch 63
Paraguay: Villar, Caniza, Gamarra, Caceres, Toledo, Bonet, Acuna, Paredes, Riveros, Valdez, Santa Cruz.
Subs: Bobadilla 8 (for Villar), Vuevas 62 (for Bonet), Nynez 82 (for Toeldo).
Bookings: Valdez 22
Referee: Marko Rodriguez (Mexico)
England: Gamarra (og) 3