England have secured their place in the World Cup quarter-finals following a laboured 1-0 win over a disappointing Ecuador side.
In a poor match of few chances, England were thankful to a second-half David Beckham free-kick which ended the stalemate. However, once again Sven Goran Eriksson’s team showed nothing to indicate that they were serious contenders to win the competition.
Eriksson opted for a novel 4-5-1 system, which saw Wayne Rooney playing on his own up front, with Michael Carrick drafted into the midfield holding role. The changes improved England’s passing, although the paucity of clear cut chances created suggested the new system was not an unqualified success.
England enjoyed the bulk of the early possession but they were unable to test Mora in what was a cagey opening to the game.
Ecuador should have taken the lead on 11 minutes when Carlos Tenorio pounced on a terrible header by John Terry. With only Robinson to beat, the striker dwelled long enough to allow Ashley Cole to make a terrific diving challenge which deflected the shot on to the bar. It was a lucky escape for England and a warning that they weren’t going to get things all their own way.
Lampard brought the first save from Mora, when he fired from the edge of the area after neat interplay from England. However, the chance was a rarity in a game that lacked cohesion and was beset by numerous stoppages caused by both sides committing countless niggly fouls. The heat was undoubtedly a factor in a lacklustre encounter, although the conditions alone couldn’t explain the sheer number of misplaced passes.
The deadlock was eventually broken when the otherwise anonymous David Beckham produced one of his trademark free-kicks. The curling effort from 25 yards was tipped onto the post by Mora but the ball rolled into the net.
Shortly afterwards, Lampard had a good chance to extend the lead, but he snatched at his shot from the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder was then presented with a wonderful chance moments later when a stray Ecuador pass found him in space, but rather than shoot he tried to find Rooney, only to underhit his pass and allow the Ecuadorian defence to clear the danger.
England were beginning to force the pace but their finally pass was invariably lamentable and when they did carve open the Ecuador defence, Lampard could usually be relied upon to scuff his shot. The Chelsea player’s work rate was admirable but his shooting in this tournament has belied his reputation as a fine striker of the ball.
Ecuador, with their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, seemed unable to mount any pressure on the England goal. Their best chance fell to Valencia who fired wide from the edge of the area, but otherwise the England defence was rarely troubled.
England just about deserved their win against a curiously uninspired Paraguay side. One bonus for Eriksson will have been the performance of Rooney, who not only lasted the full 90 minutes, but also appeared to be regaining his sharpness as the game progressed. If England are to have any chance of living up to their pre-tournament hype, then much will depend on Rooney’s renaissance.
England: Robinson, Hargreaves, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Carrick, Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole, Rooney.
Subs used: Carragher 77 (for J Cole), Lennon 87 (for Beckham), Downing 92 (for Gerrard).
Bookings: Terry 18, Robinson 78, Carragher 82.
Paraguay: Mora, De la Cruz, Hurtado, Espinoza, Reasco, Valencia, Edwin Tenorio, Castillo, Mendez, Delgado, Carlos Tenorio.
Subs used: Lara 69 (for E Tenorio) Kaviedes 73 (for C Tenorio)
Bookings: Valencia 24, Tenorio 37, De la Cruz 67
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium).
England: Beckham 60.