Sven-Goran Eriksson beat England's opening-day jinx by beating Paraguay - and little else matters.
It is probably best to overlook the fact Eriksson's men needed an own-goal to
do it, and that an impressive and upbeat opening faded badly in the searing
It is also best to ignore Paraguay's cluster of missed chances in a jittery
finish. Concentrate purely on the three World Cup points sitting proudly next to
England's name in Group B after one game.
After all, it does not normally happen.
England have won only one opening game in the last nine major competitions
they have been in. That was in France 98 against Tunisia. So this seventh
successive win for in-form England was a relief.
It also eases the pressure on Wayne Rooney to rush back from his broken foot.
It is true there were moments of concern such as England's failure to put
Paraguay to the sword when they were in control - and Michael Owen's
substitution after just 55 minutes.
There were also promising signs.
David Beckham's dead-ball delivery was exquisite and Steven Gerrard did not
look restricted by his sore back.
And, for 20 minutes at the start of the game, England were outstanding.
Eriksson had demanded energy and drive from his team. They answered his call
and the Paraguayans descended into instant defensive chaos.
Skipper Carlos Gamarra, a veteran of more than 100 caps, headed into his own
net in the third minute.
There was nothing he could do to defend Beckham's brilliant inswinging
free-kick from the England left, given for a crude challenge on Joe Cole.
Gamarra stretched to reach the ball ahead of Owen but was not in control of
his header and it flashed past goalkeeper Justo Villar.
It was a miserable start for Villar and it got worse when he dashed out to
halt a break by Owen. He cleared the ball but twisted his leg and limped off in
tears after just eight minutes.
New keeper Aldo Bobadilla started nervously and the Paraguayan defence was in
disarray, bewildered by the presence of Peter Crouch.
Gerrard, a doubtful starter, played and was at the heart of everything.
He charged around the pitch throwing himself into tackles. One reckless lunge
earned him a booking.
England could have put the game out of reach within 20 minutes, such was their
dominance, but the second goal proved elusive.
Frank Lampard twice went close and Beckham curled a right-footer close but,
all too often, England failed to match their neat approach work with a finish.
Paraguay slowly composed themselves. Gamarra re-organised his back-line and
began to look more like the team who held Brazil and Argentina in the
England, in the heat, were unable to keep going and the pace of the game
Paraguay could sense England flagging and they stretched the play wide and
kept the ball.
Paul Robinson saved from Cristian Riveros and Nelson Valdez rifled a shot just
wide before half-time.
Dangerman Roque Santa Cruz did not look fit. The Bayern Munich been troubled
by tendinitis in his knee. He was cleared to play but was not influential.
England struggled to find their rhythm again after the break.
Owen, who had started brightly, ran out of steam and was replaced by Stewart
Downing in the 55th minute.
England's top-scorer has only completed one full game since breaking his foot
on New Year's Eve and that was in the 6-0 romp against Jamaica last weekend.
Eriksson insisted he would be fine once the World Cup came but he clearly was
His match fitness is obviously still lacking and the decision to bring Theo
Walcott instead of Jermain Defoe raised its head again.
Eriksson felt unable to turn to 17-year-old Walcott with the game still in the
Instead, Downing came onto the left and Joe Cole was pushed up front with
The lack of an instinctive goal-poacher was highlighted within minutes when a
good England move released Gary Neville down the right.
He rolled a low cross into a hole at the near-post but no-one was there.
Crouch made a bid but the defenders cleared.
The selection policy looked even more flawed when Crouch started to suffer
cramp and the crowd called for Rooney.
Robinson saved from Valdez as the South Americans grew in confidence.
Eriksson sent on Owen Hargreaves in a bid to close the game out and they hung
It seemed scrappy but victory against Caribbean minnows Trinidad and Tobago
next week should secure England a place in the knock-out stages.