Defoe fires the perfect riposte

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As ripostes go, it was more than adequate. England once again squandered a lead from a position of superiority, but unlike in Austria on Saturday they had the wherewithal to regain it, and can be content with four points from back-to-back away World Cup qualifiers.

That they were mentally resilient enough to overcome the setback of the equaliser is highly encouraging, and for Sven-Göran Eriksson there was the added satisfaction that, after a week in which he has been criticised for not shaking up his team enough, it was Jermain Defoe, in as a replacement for Alan Smith, who, spinning and scampering to great effect, was the key to their victory.

There could be few complaints either about the other change Eriksson made, and if Paul Robinson was less spectacular on his competitive debut, his introduction could have more lasting significance: barring injuries or some aberration on his part, it is difficult to see David James playing for England again.

No England gathering these days, though, would be complete without its controversy, and it was provided last night by the players' decision not to speak to the media after the game in protest at the negative coverage of their performance last Saturday. Those who have condemned their cosseted lifestyles of late will hardly be appeased.

On the playing side, the fact that Poland were allowed back into the game at all means the back slapping cannot be entirely unrestrained. At half-time, England were in control, perhaps not so emphatically as they had been against Austria - who beat Azerbaijan 2-0 in one of the night's other Group Six match - but comfortable nonetheless.

Eriksson has always maintained that most goals come from breakdowns in play, which is why it is so puzzling that England have developed such a habit of conceding free-kicks on the edge of their own box of late.

Yet on Wednesday night it was Poland who were forced into spoiling fouls, and a fit David Beckham in top form might have punished them before he did. His 35th-minute free-kick once again failed to clear the first defender, but as the ball fell back to him he played in Defoe, who turned away from the defender and nimbly and calmly jabbed his finish beyond Jerzy Dudek. "I was very impressed," Eriksson said. "He is very hungry, a big, big, big talent."

First halves, though, were never the problem and it took Poland just two minutes of the second period to wipe out England's lead. Kamil Kosowski, switched from left to right at half-time and looking much happier for the change, drifted infield, and, as a great boulevard opened between Ledley King and John Terry at the centre of the England defence, laid in his former Wisla Krakow colleague Maciej Zurawski to equalise.

The sense of deflation could have been devastating, but, unlike in Vienna, England had time to respond, and it took them just 11 minutes to restore their lead, Ashley Cole's cross skimming across the box, and bobbling in off Arkadiusz Glowacki.

A stroke of luck perhaps, but luck was noticeably absent in Vienna, and it would be a hard man who begrudged Eriksson that. No one will yet be hailing him as a genius reborn, but he took a step towards reacceptance on Wednesday night.

* Scotland were disappointed to only draw 0-0 with Slovenia in their opening qualifier after dominating large parts of the game. While the Republic of Ireland were far happier to draw 1-1 in Switzerland.

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