England vs Colombia – 1998 World Cup -Match Report

1998 World Cup

Group G – Match Round 3

England 2 – 0 Colombia

Stade Felix-Bollaert, Lens

Friday 26th June 1998

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)


Group G Update

Prior to England’s matchday 2 encounter with Romania in Toulouse, Colombia would take on Tunisia at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier in front of 30,000 spectators.

This stadium would hold particular significance for Colombia captain Carlos Valderrama, who was once a Montpellier player between 1988 and 1991. He was no doubt hoping a return to southern France would give he & his Colombia side some added support from the locals.

With both sides requiring a win after suffering opening day defeats, this match was played in a very aggressive manner and saw multiple attacks from both sides throughout the ninety minutes.

With 82 minutes on the clock a moment of magic from the Colombia skipper Valderrama would see him slip through a cutting pass to second half substitute Leider Preciado, whose first touch saw him evade the Tunisian defender and apply a left footed finish which nestled in the bottom corner. This solitary goal would get Colombia the three points they desired, and would leave it all to play for in their final match with England.

Match Highlights can be found here:

Here is how Group G stood after Matchday 2.

Matchday Preview

The BBC would report on Thursday June 25th 1998 that, “Only key defender Gareth Southgate is ruled out of the starting 11 after he failed to recover in time from an ankle injury. But England’s inspirational midfielder, Paul Ince, could still make the first 11 despite limping off the pitch at the Stade Municpale in Toulouse on Monday. Paul Scholes and Sol Campbell are also recovering from a sore back and hamstring injuries respectively.

Hoddle would comment on the fitness of the squad with, “We hope that the injuries to Scholes and Campbell will have settled down by tomorrow but the game has come too soon for Gareth Southgate although he is improving.”

Speculation over the inclusion of Michael Owen featured heavily in the build up to this game, with the BBC website stating, “it appears increasingly certain that Hoddle will give Liverpool’s 18-year-old striking prodigy Michael Owen his first full start.”

Owen, who scored and then hit the post in just 13 minutes against Romania, is expected to replace Teddy Sheringham whose performance during England’s defeat on Monday was widely criticized.

Hoddle has hinted all week that Owen would be picked and said on Thursday: “Starting Michael on Friday is an option which I always thought might arrive for the third game because Colombia’s shape is different to the other two sides we have played. He has got the pace which is the attribute that frightens defenders more than anything.”

The mind games from Colombian veteran Valderrama were also on show in the run up to the match, with him stating, “The English can kick and rush but they cannot cope with balls being passed along the ground. They just panic because it’s an alien concept to them. The Romanians embarrassed them on Monday spending five minutes passing the ball to feet and the English players were made to look rather foolish.”

Big words indeed from the Colombian captain, no doubt adding some extra impetus to an England side who already have a point to prove after their last outing.

England Starting Line Up

With Southgate unable to return Hoddle would field an unchanged back three, although we’ll see they operate in a slightly different way in this particular game.

Beckham would be given his first start of the competition, which was naturally vindicated giving his strong second half performance against Romania. We’ll see the strength of relationship he has with Neville, and laterally Anderton, in this match with numerous right wing rotations throughout the game.

Scholes would start slightly deeper in this game, joining Beckham in a two man central pairing that has Ince positioned behind them in a holding role. He would continue to attack in high positions, working to get forward and connect with Shearer and Owen when available to do so.

Ince’s late fitness test perhaps illustrates Hoddle’s belief that he offers a touch more versatility than David Batty, who can probably find himself unlucky not to be selected after two stellar performances.

Owen would get the nod to partner Shearer up front which given the strategy in this match would prove to be a good decision. There’s no doubt Sheringham remains a quality operator, but his display against Romania would be hard to build a defense around keeping him in the starting eleven.

Colombia Starting Line Up

Colombia Head Coach Hernan Dario Gomez would make two changes to the starting line that had previously faced Tunisia. Moreno came in to replace Jose Santa at left back, and Leider Preciado, the scorer of the winning goal against Tunisia, came in to replace Adolfo Valencia up front.  

They remain without talisman striker Faustino Asprilla, who English fans will know well from his time at Newcastle, who picked up an injury in the opening match with Romania.

On the bench they have Hamilton Ricard who had recently moved to Middlesbrough as they pushed for promotion back to the Premier League.

Colombia’s key figures were the midfield pairing of Captain Carlos Valderrama & Freddy Rincon. Valderrama’s reputation as a top player had been established almost a decade earlier at Italia 90, but even at 36 it was evident from the opening two games he was still able to compete at this level. Rincon also featured in the famous Colombia side of Italia 90, and had just finished a two season stint with Real Madrid before heading back to South America to team up with future Brazil manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo at Corinthians.

Head Coach Gomez set up his Colombia side in a narrow 4-4-2, that in modern terms would probably be classified as a diamond 442 system. Without any traditional wingers in the side, or genuine width from the midfield, it required the four central midfielders and two strikers to be constantly rotating and moving to the find gaps between England’s 352 structure. The central six are flanked by movements from the full backs to offer support in wide areas, yet the timing of those runs can leave the side exposed when the ball turns over. Even to this day the system requires a high level of technical ability to not only break down the opponent but to also prevent them from immediately counter attacking the spaces behind advanced full backs.

Lets see how the contrasting systems of play interacted.

First Half Analysis

Colombia Build Up Play

To help us understand what England would have scouted from Colombia’s game with Tunisia, lets take a look at some highlights. We can see that Colombia like to play penetrative passes into the final third, feeding entry balls into their strikers who are on the half turn with the intent of quickly facing the goal to get shots off. In both instances the opportunity arrived when the opposition midfield were drawn toward the ball and unable to screen the back line, thus leaving their center backs in an individual battle with the Colombia strikers.

With England lining up with three center backs this will now place more emphasis on each of them being able to intercept passes, but also use the extra man to good effect to cover the player who presses the ball.

It will also require England’s holding midfielder (in this case Ince) to remain disciplined in his positioning and prevent any penetrative passes from splitting the defensive shape.

Build Up Play Philosophy

During the first half we can see from the clips that the Colombian midfield and attack use lots of movement to initiate build up patterns. A common trend saw Valderrama dropping deep and Rincon working between the lines. Similarly de Avila would drop down into midfield, allowing a midfielder to go high and stretch the game in his place. With Valderrama flanked by Lozano and Serna centrally, we see them all play quick short passes to draw pressure and expose the space behind any England midfielder who jumps forward to press. In the clips we see Rincon working to stand behind a pressing player (pictured below).

This offers the ball passer/carrier an easy pass to evade pressure and break England’s lines, thus utilizing the extra man Colombia have in midfield.

While this methodical build up allowed Colombia to slowly progress the ball up the field, it also allowed England to simply drop back into a 532 defensive shape and mark zonally to ensure no penetrative passes got in behind the back line.

Colombia became more aware of the need to be more aggressive in possession, so in some of the clips earlier we see Rincon and Valderrama play a little less safe and attempt more creative passes. In addition to this we also caught a few glimpses of what Colombia have in store in transition.

Colombia Counter Attack Play

In attack Colombia has players who can carry the ball effectively, Rincon being a good example, but also players with the athleticism to hurt opponents when space is available in the final third. Add both of these together and it should make for a potent attack, however Colombia couldn’t convert beyond a good attempt.

England Defensively

Defending Aerial Duels

The criticism England’s back line received in the wake of the Romania performance will have no doubt spurred them on to raise their level in this match. It was evident that there was a heightened performance brewing in the early moments, just by the way Neville, Adams and Campbell attacked the ball in the air.

Stepping Forward to Defend

Similarly with Colombia’s movement to drop off the high line we didn’t see Neville and Campbell simply pass the man on to a midfielder, they were extremely aggressive in stepping into midfield and negating any ability for Colombia to create a spare/free player.

England Counter Attack Play

With Colombia dictating a lot of possession in the opening half but not offering much in the way of clear-cut chances, it gave England the opportunity to build on their solid defensive performance by threatening via counter attacks.

In England’s last match with Romania we saw Scholes as utilized as the focal point when counter attacking, feeding him the ball to carry centrally and in turn find Sheringham and Shearer in shooting positions.

With Scholes starting deeper in the defensive organization Hoddle would turn to Michael Owen to be the new target as and when the ball turns over. His electric pace and ability to stay on the shoulder of the last defender proved to be a real asset in the opening half, with him pulling wide into the channel vacated by an advancing Colombian full back. On 19 minutes Neville played a simple ball in behind Colombia’s left back Moreno for Owen to latch onto and cross into the box. This attack would prove pivotal, as after a headed clearance from the cross Darren Anderton struck the ball ever so sweetly and it sailed into the top corner giving England a 1-0 lead.

England Build Up Play

England Right Wing Rotations

In contrast to the previous two games where England had enjoyed a lot of the ball and used a sophisticated build up via pattern play, in this match they had to be more creative in the moments they had the ball.

With Colombia defending the central areas of the field in their narrow 442 shape, this provided England with the opportunity to overload wide areas and get quality deliveries into the box with little pressure on the ball.

On England’s right hand side they had Darren Anderton at right wing back, Gary Neville at right center back and David Beckham at right center midfield, all three of whom are equipped with the ability to deliver a ball into the box with conviction.

In the clips we see Beckham pulling into wide areas to whip balls into the box and we also see Neville making overlapping runs around Anderton, from center back, that we saw so frequently against Romania.

Once the balls were delivered into the box Shearer and Owen were positioned to attack the spaces near the posts, with Scholes attacking from deep to cover the penalty spot zone. This made for some particularly good chances in the first half for England and as the half progressed, we saw fewer and fewer moves forward from Colombia’s full backs in an effort to cover the defensive spaces England were attacking so freely.

England Momentum

David Beckham picked up in this game exactly where he left off in Toulouse, showing a level of performance that was worthy of man of the match potential even in the opening stages. His ability to switch play, hit pinpoint crosses and offer energy defensively were exemplary in this game, and on 29 minutes he would remind the world what his gift from the football gods would be.

A stunning free kick from almost 30 yards out sailed over the Colombia defensive wall and flew past keeper Mondragon. The goal certainly settled any apprehension that may have been felt in the England camp, providing Hoddle with the platform upon which to build or to use as a stopping point in protecting their 2-0 lead.

Second Half Analysis

As the teams re-entered the field for the second half England would remain unchanged, where as Coach Diaz made a triple substitution for Colombia. In would come three attackers, Adolfo Valencia, Victor Aristizabal and Hamilton Ricard, to replace central midfielder Serna and strike duo de Avila and Preciado.

Colombia Build Up Shape

In the closing stages of the first half we saw Hoddle adjust England’s defensive shape, with Scholes moving to connect with Shearer and Owen, who dropped the forward press deeper, and Beckham and Ince working to connect with the wing back on the ball side (in this case Le Saux) to prevent Colombia’s diamond midfield from finding space between the lines. In essence England wanted to compact centrally to force play wide.

Building Out of The Box

With the introduction of attacking midfielder Aristizabal to accompany Valderrama, Colombia coach Gomez now positioned his midfield in the shape of a box. By moving away from a diamond they were able to find new ways to play in behind England’s zonal defensive shape. With Aristizabal and Valderrama now stood in advanced positions, it offered Rincon and Lozano diagonal passing angles which hadn’t been available previously.

Striker Profile

In addition to the change in midfield shape Colombia now also altered the profile of their lead striker. In Hamilton Ricard Colombia now had a striker with genuine pace in behind, but also someone who had the ability to fashion chances with his back to goal.

With two attacking midfielders directly underneath the two forwards it also offered better angles to run the shoulders of England’s defenders and, at times, negate England’s ability to use a spare man at the back.

England’s Answer Tactically

You can hear in the game tape Hoddle calling onto the players, “Show him wide”, whenever an England player engages with a Colombia midfielder. Given the amount of central options Colombia had this was sage advice, however as the second half wore on it felt as if Colombia were doing England’s defending for them.

We see that Hoddle reacts to the box midfield by flattening out his central three midfielders (Scholes, Ince and Beckham) and he has them drop back to screen the back five and basically kill any space between the lines. Shearer and Owen position themselves wider to defend the inside spaces, thus preventing Lozano or Rincon to drop and pick up easy possession from the center backs.

Hoddle would bring on McManaman for Scholes to offer a different option in transition, and perhaps combine better with Le Saux on the left wing.

Rob Lee would take the place of Anderton at right wing back, primarily to see the game out and offer defensive protection in front of Neville.

David Batty would also make an appearance on 83 minutes to replace Paul Ince, who really hadn’t shown any signs of being hampered by injury at all during the match.

While England were very professional in this match it depends where your allegiances lie to fully evaluate this second half performance. Yes, the connectivity between England’s back line and midfield was excellent. Yes, individually there are plenty of instances where England defenders and midfielders intercept the ball to create a counterattack, but the amount of turn overs Colombia created through over dribbling and simply giving England the ball was eye watering.

At no point do Colombia try and stretch the field or offer any advanced width by say changing to 4-3-3. The system played right into England’s hands, who still had to do their job, but it gave England the opportunity to generate attacks from deep through counter attacks and what better asset to have than a striker with blistering pace.

Michael Owen Effect

One player who offered the biggest threat in transition was Michael Owen, who’s pace and movement was a threat Colombia simply couldnt handle by the end.

For all Owen’s quality attack play he will be disappointed not to have finished on 81 minutes, however its clear that he’s a capable striker at this level despite him only being 18 and having minimal international minutes.

Individual Analysis

Sol Campbell

Another magnificent performance from Campbell as best illustrated in the defensive clips above. He dominated almost every opponent he encountered in this match, and will be required to put in more big performances should England look to advance further in the tournament.

Alan Shearer

Despite Owen getting the plaudits in this match Shearer is still very much England’s leading striker. His all round game is exactly whats required of a functional side like England, ranging from attacking direct balls, to playing with his back to goal in ground link up, to being there in the box and applying finisheds when it matters.

Carlos Valderrama

It was a pleasure watching 90 minutes of Valderrama, even though it was fairly evident his best years were behind him. At 36 this would be his last game for Colombia, however he would continue to the ripe old age of 41 in Major League Soccer in the USA, finally calling it a day after a season with the Colorado Rapids.

Freddy Rincon

This was a player I had no memory of watching live at the time, however it’s a name that always resonates as a legend of Colombian football. My only real connection is that I would always make a point of signing him on Championship Manager 97/98! His quality in carrying the ball, taking a pass from all angles and playing penetrative passes were evident from the first whistle, and even aged 31 he was arguably one of the best attackers on the field.

The Final Word

In truth this match carried more pressure due to what was at stake rather than any genuine threat to England being defeated. While Colombia had some quality their rearguard was never a match for a team the level of England.

Hoddle will feel vindicated that the changes he’s made to the side have over the course of the three group stage games have worked out. Beckham’s inclusion gives his side more balance, Owen certainly gives them more of a threat in the final third. Additionally Neville hasn’t looked out of place at all in the back three, and if anything offers more attacking threat than Southgate could do.

The biggest difference in this particular match has to be England cutting out the defensive errors we saw against Romania. All three center backs looked assured, as did those in front of them, which proves the quality is there to compete at this level it just has to be backed up by belief.

The BBC website would write:

David Beckham finally stamped his presence on France 98 with a spectacular goal in the 2-0 win over Colombia – then declared: “I’ve never played better.”

The 23-year-old Manchester United midfielder had been devastated to be left on the bench for England’s first two France 98 games, with Glenn Hoddle saying he was not focused. But Beckham took his chance in style against Colombia in Lens, scoring his first goal in 18 internationals with a blistering free-kick as England eased towards a place in the last 16.

Summing up the victory that secured second place in Group D, Hoddle added: “If we’d taken half of our chances we would have won by four or five. It was a conclusive and controlled performance, perhaps the best under me. Everybody was worth eight out of 10. When you do that you normally win.”

You can read the original 1998 BBC match report from the BBC website archives by CLICKING HERE

Elsewhere In Group G

Romania would take on Tunisia in the other final game of Group G, a game that would take place in front of 77,000 people at the Stade de France. The attendance wasn’t the only surprise factor of this match, as Romania’s players would emerge from the tunnel each sporting bleach blonde hair.

With Tunisia out of the competition it allowed them to play with a freedom, that would pay off after only 12 minutes with Souayah slotting home a penalty to go 1-0 up.

With England’s scoreline bettering that of Romania at half time, the standings would have England finishing top of Group G and Romania second. This would have serious implications as to the round of 16, with Argentina lying in wait for the side who finished second at the end of 90 minutes.

Final placements were all in Romania’s hands, and after a fairly shambolic performance in Paris it looked like ending in defeat. Fortunately for the Romanian’s Viorel Moldovan would come on to find an equalizing goal that would see them finish the Group stages with 7 points and top of the standings.

Final placements look like this:

For England they now progress onto the round of 16 with a match against Argentina, taking place on Tuesday 30th June 1998 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne.

Join us next time as we analyze one of the most iconic matches of the 90s.

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