CAGLIARI, ITALY, JUNE 17 -- The British minister of sport today decried the violence by English soccer fans here before Saturday night's England-Netherlands match as "a sickening reflection that a mindless minority of thugs can bring English football into international disrepute."

The uprising by several hundred English puts in jeopardy England's hope of persuading the Union of European Football Associations (EUFA) to lift a ban on English club teams from playing on the continent. The ban has been in effect for five years because of English hooligans' behavior at soccer matches, and has prevented English players, especially younger ones, from gaining important experience playing European clubs.

Colin Moynihan, the British sports minister, today praised the Italian police for dispersing an estimated crowd of 3,000 English fans, many bent on making trouble with Dutch fans, as they marched Saturday evening toward Stadio Sant'Elia.

Moynihan's statement was read at a news conference held by representatives of both the British sports ministry and the British embassy in Rome. The embassy is operating an office here on Sardinia until England completes its first-round games and English fans have left the island.

"I am grateful to the police for their swift, tough and decisive action which defused this situation and prevented other incidents, avoiding serious confrontation between English and Dutch supporters," Moynihan said.

The impression British officials gave was that the outbreak could have been much worse, but that preparations by both the Italian and British governments paid off.

As it was, seven English fans, including one minor, were arrested Saturday night here and charged with damaging property and resisting arrest. One of the seven is hospitalized with a broken leg, reportedly suffered when he fell over a wall trying to escape from Italian police.

Arraignment may come Monday, although the court here is busy with a backlog of other English fans charged with lawbreaking. In all, 31 English are being held in Sardinian jails. One has been released pending trial. Three are serving sentences. One was convicted and expelled from the country. Eight have received suspended sentences.

A British spokesman said no incidents occurred at the stadium during the game.

"That was largely due to the Italian authorities providing, at our request, an adequate number of coaches {buses} for the dispersal of fans away from the stadium," said Graham Newsom, spokesman for the minister of sport.

Most of the seven arrested Saturday night were in their early twenties. Newsom said that the Italian and British governments "had information" that the hooligans wanted to mix it up with Dutch fans, and further "information that they'd resist" Italian police at the point the police chose to disperse the crowd.

The Italians blockaded the main street used by the marchers with two police trucks. Scores of police moved in to force the crowd to use different routes to the stadium, thereby avoiding Dutch fans who were on the main street between the massed English and the stadium.

The violence began when English hooligans hurled rocks at the police. Police responded with a show of force, driving the crowd back with batons. Several English fans were struck, and some were bloodied about the head. Police also fired tear gas into the crowd.

Italian police, some carrying submachine guns, "detained" 500 to 600 English about a half mile from the stadium on an alternate route that took the English past the Basilica di Bonaria which stands on what was the heart of the city in the Middle Ages.

The majority "detained" were found to have tickets to the game and were let go in small numbers. About 100 who didn't have tickets were turned back.

Newsom and Kay Coombs, spokesman representing the British embassy in Rome, said that the British and Italian governments are continuing to work together planning security measures should England advance to the second round, which will be played on the mainland beginning Saturday.

England, one of the better ranked teams among the 24 starting competition June 8, is flirting with an early return home among eight teams to be cut after play Thursday, because every game played so far by the four teams in England's bracket has been tied. England needs a victory Thursday night against Egypt to ensure making it to the mainland, although it could still advance with another tie.

England's possible next sites are Bologna, Genoa, Turin or Milan.

Newsom said that a 24-hour ban imposed by the Italian government on the sale of alcohol in cities where matches are played -- a measure heavily criticized by Italian restaurateurs and bar owners -- was a major factor in avoiding worse violence.

"It stopped groups of fans from congregating outside pubs where there is a tendency to confrontation," Newsom said.

Five other English fans were charged with minor offenses and released in Palau, a town north of Cagliari. "They were held until they couldn't get to the match," Newsom said. An English man was convicted of "throwing dangerous objects" and released pending trial in another Sardinian town, Muravera.

As for England's chances to get EUFA to lift its ban on English club teams playing on the continent, Newsom cited the British government's and the soccer body's assumption that "the behavior of English fans at this event would be a test."