Darius Vassell celebrated his
England debut with a spectacular strike to earn England a draw in
Amsterdam. The 21-year-old Aston Villa striker volleyed home
David Beckham's cross on the hour to secure a result which Sven-Goran
Eriksson's England thoroughly deserved. Vassell was one of
three uncapped players handed a starting place by Eriksson.
Wayne Bridge stepped in at
left-back while Vassell and Michael Ricketts formed the nucleus of
an unlikely three-pronged attack alongside Emile Heskey. Three
debutants would suggest a major experiment by the England coach. In
fact, Eriksson's starting team was a relatively settled one.
The remaining eight starters can, barring injury, safely have their
suits measured for Japan and may even be assured of starting
England's World Cup match against Sweden.
That kind of stability afforded
Bridge the confidence to step in and make an assured debut, though
it was Vassell who caught the eye. In his pace, the striker
carried a secret weapon to which the Dutch offered little defence.
England were comfortable, and increasingly threatening as the game
wore on. But the biggest early danger to Dutch goalkeeper
Edwin van der Sar came from his own defender, Michael Reiziger.
The Barcelona defender, under pressure from
Heskey, chested Gary Neville's right-wing cross dangerously towards
his keeper and was relieved to see the keeper scramble the ball
round a post as Heskey closed in.
But England grew in confidence,
defending efficiently throughout their 4-3-3 formation and breaking
swiftly when the chance arose with the impressive Steven Gerrard
pivotal. The Dutch, despite oozing class throughout the side,
rarely threatened. And, when their breakthrough came midway
through the first half, it was adorned with a huge slice of good
fortune. Sol Campbell struggled to deal with a high ball into
the area, heading away at the second attempt under pressure from the
menacing Ruud van Nistelrooy. But his eventual clearance fell
straight into the path of Patrick Kluivert, whose shot looped off
the outstretched leg of the frantic Campbell and beyond the groping
reach of a stranded Nigel Martyn.
England's response was creditably positive.
Four half-time changes,
including a taste of the action for the increasingly-frustrated
Kevin Phillips, heralded a concerted push for an equaliser. It
nearly came when Beckham's free-kick forced a smart save from Van
der Sar, substitute Chris Powell volleying the rebound over the bar.
It nearly came when Phillips pressured Van der Sar into an error,
only for the Dutch keeper to redeem himself with a point-blank save
from Beckham on the follow-up. But when it finally came, it
was well worth waiting for. Beckham, predictably, was involved
and his accurate centre was greeted by a queue of England players,
with Vassell at the front. The Aston Villa striker did not
need asking twice and spectacularly beat Van der Sar with an
acrobatic right footed volley that flew into the top corner of the