- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

NUREMBERG, Germany — In this city, known for its judicial scrutiny of the vilest of characters, the English soccer team was put on trial yesterday by a stubborn Trinidad and Tobago team that made the star-studded squad sweat for every ball.

Whatever’s in the drinking water in Trinidad and Tobago, or maybe the coconuts, it seems to be working. The brave players from the smallest nation ever to compete in the finals kept the jury out on the favored-England for 83 minutes in a highly entertaining game but stumbled at the end, losing 2-0 before a sellout crowd of 41,000.

The final verdict came when England’s Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard, scored late goals to send their team into the second round. With a game against Sweden remaining, England has a chance to win Group B.

“It was difficult for us to score a first goal, but I think we had a lot of chances,” England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said. “It was difficult when they defended with eight to 10 at the back behind the ball. And they had good discipline and physical strength. But I’m happy we showed patience and in the end won the match, and I think we deserved to win absolutely.”

England finally broke the deadlock when the 6-foot-7 Crouch rose high at the far post to head home David Beckham’s perfectly curling cross, beating former Howard University goalie Shaka Hislop.

“We never give in, that’s the message we will never give up,” Beckham said. “People thought we would walk this game, but we believed that it would be hard. We kept our game plan and won it.”

Following its feeble 1-0 win over Paraguay, some questioned whether England’s makeshift forward line could score goals. But following two key substitutions at the hour mark, the English — who out-shot Trinidad and Tobago 23-7 and controlled 62 percent of the possession — finally answered their critics.

Standout Wayne Rooney, who hadn’t played a competitive game since breaking his foot in a league game on April 29, finally made his appearance, coming off the bench for Michael Owen. The most famous right foot in the world in recent weeks seemed to be working quite well for the 20-year-old striker. And while he was limited to a few touches, his presence shook up the Caribbean opponents.

England played much better possession soccer than in the Paraguay game but could only fire soft shots at Hislop — the hero of the scoreless tie with Sweden — for much of the game.

Crouch nearly squeaked in a goal at the far post from a Joe Cole cross in the first half. Then Trinidad and Tobago came close when Dennis Lawrence sent a header over the bar. Beckham had plenty of chances in the first half, but nothing worked for the England captain.

In the 28th minute there were chants for Rooney as the Manchester United ace got off the bench to warm up.

It looked like the break would come for heavily favored England in the 41st minute when the ineffective Owen set up Frank Lampard, but the normally reliable Chelsea star shot high. Then Beckham turned on a beautiful bending shot that kept Hislop on his toes. Seconds later the Real Madrid midfielder gave Crouch a golden opportunity but the Liverpool star got his legs tangled up and blew the potential volley.

Trinidad and Tobago almost took the lead when Stern John, who used to terrorize Major League Soccer defenses with the Columbus Crew, nearly crossed the ball over the England line. Only a brilliant, scissor-kick clearance by defender John Terry saved England from allowing the first goal.

Trinidad and Tobago opened the second half by giving England a scare when Chris Birchall — the first white man to play for the country in 60 years — set up Kenwyne Jones, who fired wide. The English-born Birchall’s mother was born in Trinidad.

When Owen headed wide a rebound from Beckham’s free kick, his night was over and Rooney arrived. The shaky Jamie Carragher was replaced by winger Aaron Lennon, who made his World Cup debut.

“The coach made two great substitutions,” Beckham said. “The plus is we got the late goal and finished the story.”

Stewart Downing came on for the hard-working Cole with 15 minutes left.

There was no shortage of action. Trinidad and Tobago’s Cornell Glenn, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, broke away from Ashley Cole with only England goalie Paul Robinson to beat, but Cole recovered.

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