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A Little Luck of a Draw Helps England Advance

June 13, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three questions for Three Lions on a day England saw its shooters go oh-for-Osaka, Japan, yet still qualified for the second round:

1) Was England sandbagging during its 0-0 draw with Nigeria at Osaka Nagai Stadium Wednesday, preferring to finish second in Group E instead of first, which would mean a second-round match against a familiar foe, Denmark, instead of unpredictable and explosive Senegal?

2) If not, shouldn't England have expected more of a performance against a Nigerian squad that had been eliminated days earlier and had nothing tangible to play for?

3) Either way, how much further can England progress in the World Cup with an offense that has yet to produce a goal in open play?

Captain David Beckham addressed these issues after his team used the lackluster tie to clinch second place in Group E behind Sweden and earn a second-round match against surprising Group A winner Denmark Saturday in Niigata, Japan.

"There are going to be some cynics complaining about the way we played, and that our goals have not come from open play [but only] from a corner and a penalty," Beckham said. "But I don't think anybody could argue about the way we played against Argentina.

"There was always going to be a comedown after Argentina, but we went out there, did a professional job and we are through."

Beckham described the heat and humidity in Osaka as the worst he has played in, attributing England's sporadic performance to the conditions.

And, for the record, England Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said his team wasn't trying to dodge anyone, that "it doesn't matter who we play.... It was hot and very difficult. We knew Nigeria wanted to try and win the game, and I think they played very well."

England finished group play with five points at 1-0-2, same as Sweden, but scored only two goals to Sweden's four.

One came on a corner kick, Beckham to Sol Campbell, in the 1-1 tie with the Swedes. The other was Beckham's decisive penalty kick against Argentina.

England will need to do better than that against Denmark, one of the best defensive units in the tournament.

For the moment, however, Eriksson wanted to contemplate the achievement at hand: England advancing from the much-advertised "Group of Death."

"That was our first target," he said. "We did it."

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