England's Win Quells Hooligans
By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 28, 1998; Page D1
LENS, France, June 27 (Saturday) All afternoon and evening, they sat sullenly along the sidewalks, grim-faced and silent. The 10,000 or so English fans who came here to hang out at the nighttime England-Colombia World Cup soccer game were deprived of beer by a region-wide alcohol ban, deprived of high jinks by French riot police who dragged them down to the station if they even looked unruly, deprived of shopping by the decision of storeowners to close early, deprived of tickets by lack of availability and their own unwillingness to pay high scalper prices.
But at night's end, they got something to cheer about: England trounced Colombia, 2-0, putting the team into the next round and confirming the strength of its powerful offense.
England's position had looked vulnerable, if not from elimination from the tournament to the feeling that it did not rank among the top contenders for the title. It had lost, 2-1, to Romania in the previous game amid questions about whether Coach Glenn Hoddle's 11 had the consistency to reach the top. A victory or a draw was needed to prevent elimination.
From the VIP box, Prince Charles and his youngest son, Prince Harry, watched a team that was consistent. With Hoddle's decision to start 18-year-old forward Michael Owen in place of veteran Teddy Sheringham, he created a virtual fighting machine.
England played the field as if it were 80 yards wide (which it was). Both offense and defense consistently controlled the pace of the game, leaving the slow-moving Colombians behind. Even after Colombian Coach Hernan Dario Gomez brought in a new front line in the second half and changed formations, Colombia could not compete. "It was very conclusive," Hoddle said. "It was a controlled performance. We passed the ball well, we defended well. When most players do well, you win."
"The English were especially strong on attack," Gomez said. "They did not let us open up space. In all, England was the better side tonight."
Though he did not score, much of the attack was spearheaded by Owen. In the 20th minute he crossed to set up a powerful midair shot by halfback Darren Anderton that scored the first goal. The other offensive power was halfback David Beckham, best known outside of soccer as the fiance of Spice Girl Victoria "Posh" Adams.
On a free kick in the 29th minute, Beckham booted a shot that curved left into the goal (that same curve cost him a goal on a free kick in the 66th minute) for the second score. Owen nearly scored on several occasions. Some of his shots were among the many valiant blocks by Colombian goalie Farid Mondragon. By the end, the well-behaved crowd, the English team and even the referees all seemed to be begging Owen to score; on a long run down the field Owen was taken down by Colombian defender Jorge Bermudez in what seemed to be a routine tackle; Bermudez received a yellow card. "We made many more chances" than in the Romania game, Owen said. "I would normallly expect to score in situations like that."
England's next foe is Argentina, victorious over Croatia, 1-0, in Saint-Etienne on Tuesday.
The French authorities also were victorious in the efforts to keep English hooligans under control. Some 1,200 law-enforcement authorities were deployed in this small city, including legions of plastic-helmeted, jack-booted riot police, and they did not hesitate to act. There were more than 100 arrests around the region, but most were for minor offenses.
During the afternoon, thousands of ticketless people, nearly all young, male and English, roamed the downtown. Empty beer cans and bottles littered the gutters, but most of the visitors drank soft drinks. Cars were rare, and the streets were eerily silent. "It's so quiet," said one English fan.
"I guess all the French people went somewhere else," said his friend.
So did the English, after the game. Special trains and buses carried them to Calais, Lille, Paris and elsewhere; by 1 a.m. this morning there was almost no one on the streets.
Colombia, meanwhile, failed to move on to the next round for the second World Cup in a row. The last failure came against the United States in 1994 on an own goal scored by Andres Escobar, who upon his return to Colombia was shot dead in a disco parking lot.
Gomez said this was his last game as coach, a decision that was taken he didn't say by whom "a long time ago. New people are coming who will do new things."
The current ones looked old and did old things. Veteran midfielder Carlos Valderrama, whose distinctive tangle of blonde bouncy hair graced its last World Cup game, anchored the center, but nothing ever moved beyond that. The Colombians controlled the ball reasonably well, but only on their side of the center line. They barely had a decent shot on goal. Gomez said the team anticipates an influx of new players, and it's probably time.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company