England coach Sven Goran
Eriksson's brave new world suffered its first setback at the hands
of masterly Holland at White Hart Lane. Louis Van Gaal's Dutch
masters wrecked Eriksson's perfect record of five wins out of five
with a performance of pedigree and passing of the highest calibre.
Eriksson conducted a complete revamp of his early line-ups to give
members of the England undercard an opportunity ahead of the crucial
World Cup qualifier in Germany on 1 September. And it was a
brutal lesson in the harsh reality of international football for
inexperienced youngsters like debutant Owen Hargreaves as England
were outclassed in the opening 45 minutes. England held on
unconvincingly until the Dutch struck twice inside a minute shortly
before half-time, courtesy of a long-range thunderbolt from Mark van
Bommel and a poacher's goal from Manchester United's £19m new boy
Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Eriksson will not be too
distressed despite the defeat, knowing he will field a virtually
unrecognisable line-up for the World Cup showdown in Munich.
It was, in some respects, a
timely reminder of the steep learning curve England must still climb
to move back into world football's elite group. Holland, in
contrast, confirmed that reports of their demise have been hugely
exaggerated and they will pose a massive threat to the Republic of
Ireland in their important qualifier next month. Eriksson's
England were given the severest test of the Swede's reign so far in
a first half that had the Dutch trademark passing style stamped all
over it. England's experimental line-up had little time to
settle as the were outflanked - literally at times by the brilliant
wide pair of Boudewijn Zenden and Marc Overmars - and outmanoeuvred.
The Dutch posted the warning
signs as early the eighth minute when Van Nistelrooy escaped a
disjointed England offside trap and forced a fine save from Nigel
England finally got themselves
into the game midway through the first half - but it was simply the
cue for a period of Dutch devastation that brought two goals.
Eriksson's side showed signs of shaking Van Gaal's side out of their
imperious stride when Andy Cole brought a desperate save from Edwin
van der Sar with his feet after 33 minutes. Fulham's new
import from Juventus was in action again seconds later, brilliantly
palming Gary Neville's drive over the bar as it looked bound for the
top corner. Holland had hinted at their superiority, and
confirmed it with a lethal double strike inside a minute. Van
Bommel was first on target after 38 minutes, picking up a harmless
looking pass and taking advantage of England's invitation to shoot
by sending a rising 35-yard drive past a stunned Martyn. It
was a stunning counter-punch - and England were on the canvas when
Van Nistelrooy doubled the Dutch advantage seconds later.
Martyn could only palm out
Zenden's long range drive, and the marksman Manchester United hope
will help bring another title to Old Trafford this season was on
hand to score from the rebound.
The striker's United team-mate
Jaap Stam then headed narrowly off target, before Van Nistelrooy
produced a piece of skill that even had the disappointed England
fans applauding. He delivered a brilliant chip which left
Martyn stranded, but as he turned to celebrate the ball bounced to
safety of the bar. The game took on an unreal atmosphere after
the break when a total of 13 substitutes - including eight England
replacements - were sent on. Chelsea's £7.5m new boy Zenden
will have provided a worry for watching coach Claudio Ranieri by
sitting on the sidelines with an ice pack on his ankle after a
tackle from Jamie Carragher. And two were involved within
seconds when West Ham new boy David James made a brilliant
one-handed stop from Chelsea's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
The save came at some cost as
James suffered a knee injury in a collision with Martin Keown as he
attempted to cover Hasselbaink.
The England duo were both
substituted - with Arsenal's £6m signing Richard Wright and
Middlesbrough's Ugo Ehiogu coming on. It meant the second
period was little more than a training exercise with both coaches
trying out new faces and the game occasionally being reduced to
walking pace. England were able to limit the damage that
Holland threatened to inflict on them in that blistering first half.
Michael Owen had England's best chance of the game in injury time -
but Liverpool's in-form striker blazed wildly over the bar.
And while Eriksson will be disappointed to have tasted defeat for
the first time, it is unlikely the coach will believe it will have a
significant effect on his World Cup planning.