Drab

by Satish Sekar at Wembley Stadium © Satish Sekar (September 3rd 2014)

Below Par

There was more excitement in the normally unflappable Roy Hodgsonʼs press conference than on the pitch tonight. Hodgson was terse in his defence of a dreary performance with few positives. Nevertheless, Hodgson, true to form, found positives. The obvious were the displays of Man of the Match Raheem Sterling and his Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge.

“Donʼt hit me with statistics”, Hodgson snapped. “Two shots on target? Donʼt give me that one. What about the ones they threw themselves in front of? We had that much possession and you talk about two shots on target. The performance was quite good”.

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The facts told a different story. Norway is ranked 53 in the world for a reason. Before the World Cup they were thrashed by France. Their main striking threat Joshua King is struggling to make an impact at Blackburn Rovers. Contrary to Hodgsonʼs claim that Norway was a good team, the rankings are not lying in this case. Norway are not that good. In a qualifying group that contains Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria, even Norwegians talk about fighting Bulgaria for third place.

An ambitious England team should be looking to win convincingly against such opposition. Hodgson thought they were a higher quality than Perú, but were they. Perú held their own in the first half before tiring and paying the price for tiredness and notable absentees. Norway have much to prove. Their tactics were obvious – they would absorb pressure and hope to profit later.

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Hodgson gets Retaliation in

You have just seen an England team dominate for 45 minutes against a good opponent, an opponent thatʼs hard to beat and you have seen them work very hard to create chances”, Hodgson said. “There was a lot of euphoria before the World Cup. We were getting 75,000 people to see us play Peru, who, with respect, were nowhere near as difficult an opponent as Norway. And now we have 40,000”.

Rooney scores

The normally placid England manager refused to take criticism of the performance, taking great exception to a question about just two shots on goal – Rooneyʼs penalty and Danny Welbeckʼs shot from just inside the penalty area, both in the final quarter of the match.

I canʼt put that right because I canʼt turn the clock back, but what I can do is analyse what I have seen and judge that through my eyes, and not judge it because someone is going to tell me: ʻWell, you only had two shots at goalʼ, because for me, that is absolute f*****g b******s, Iʼm sorry”.

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Satisfaction?

Hodgson praised new skipper Wayne Rooneyʼs performance, although barring the match-winning goal from the penalty spot there was little to enthuse about from Manchester Unitedʼs captain. In just over 20 minutes new Arsenal signing Danny Welbeck posed more questions than Rooney. A stinging shot from 15 yards out was parried by Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland and after a neat interchange on the left of the area with Sturridge, Welbeckʼs centre lacked only the finishing touch.

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Bar a twenty minute period in the second half Norway was content to defend. Joshua Kingʼs header from a corner brought a fine save out of Joe Hart – heʼd been little more than a spectator up to that point, bar a slight fumble of Per Ciljan Skjelbredʼs cross/shot. King almost punished Gary Cahillʼs error on the right flank. King cut into the area before shooting from an acute angle that Hart had covered.

A sumptuous pass by Sterling found Sturridge in the area, but his lob from 10 yards out nestled on the roof of the net. Jack Wilshere and Sturridge looked puzzled either side of the interval when sent tumbling to earth by Håvard Nordtveit. Portuguese referee Jorge Sousa was unimpressed on both occasions. However, after Norwayʼs most attacking period, it proved third time lucky. Omar Elabdellaoui fouled Sterling to concede a 67th minute penalty. Rooney converted it for the only goal in an uninspiring match.

Positives

Less than half full Wembleyʼs famed atmosphere was lacking – toned down by a defensive performance. Norway came to frustrate and they did. Hoping to grab something on the counter-attack, the plan almost worked, but for Hart. Manager Per Mathias Høgmo bemoaned the naïve defending that cost his team a penalty. His concern was to boost confidence – achieved – and learn the lesson when defending against quality attackers like Sturridge and Sterling.

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In defeat they claimed a moral victory. Few thought Englandʼs display – two shots on target, Welbeck and Rooneyʼs penalty – posed any threat to Switzerland next week, but Norway showed enough to suggest that despite losing they could frustrate Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria in a harder group than Englandʼs.

But Hodgson was having none of it. Allow me to be excited about what they can do and allow me to stand up and say I think my team played well at a press conference when I think they have”, Hodgson said. He was satisfied with the performance, believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary and other peopleʼs opinions that England had played well.

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England Bow Out

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2014)

Changes

Roy Hodgson rang in the changes – nine of them – for the final match of a disappointing World Cup campaign. It ended 0-0 against the supposed whipping boys Costa Rica. Jorge Pinto Alfanadorʼs team ignored the script and won the group by avoiding defeat. Arsenalʼs Joel Campbell Samuels was less impressive than in the previous two matches. Meanwhile, Liverpoolʼs Daniel Sturridge was the focal pint of Englandʼs attack.

Sturridgeʼs first chance was created by Jack Wilshere, but he shot wide twice in just over .the first 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Celso Borges 25 yards out free-kick was finger-tipped onto bar for corner by Ben Foster. England felt that they should have been awarded a spot-kick by Algerian referee Djamel Haimoudi after 26 minutes.

The Obdurate Barrier

Wilshereʼs cross was nodded on by Ross Barkley to Sturridge, but Óscar Duarte Gaitán got his leg in front off Sturridgeʼs as the Liverpool striker prepared to shoot. Sturridge went over Duarteʼs leg, but no penalty was given. After 34 minutes Sturridge had another chance. Barkleyʼs corner was nodded on by Phil Jones and Sturridge headed it over.

The half ended with a route one effort from the Central Americans. Levanteʼs goalkeeper Keylor Navas Gamboa booted it 80 yards up the pitch, but Randall Brenes Moya lacked composure and his effort ballooned up into Fosterʼs arms.

Navas performed heroically, taking Sturridgeʼs studs in his leg as he bravely claimed at the strikerʼs feet three minutes into the second half as Luke Shawʼs cross ballooned up into the area. With just under an hour played Adam Lallana was played in behind the defence on the left. He squared it for Sturridge, but Navas intercepted before it could reach Sturridge.

Farewell

Chris Smalling passed to Wilshere who found Sturridge, but the striker missed again from close range and with just over 20 minutes remaining Sturridge was poised to shoot, but an excellent tackle by Miguel Rodríguez Echevaria conceded a corner rather than the penalty some hoped for. Steven Gerrard was brought on for a few minutes – possibly his last appearance for England. His 88th minute cross was just too high for Wayne Rooney.

England could not find a way past Navas, who is enhancing his reputation with each match at this World Cup. Roy Hodgsonʼs hopes of going far in this competition are over. The three lions finished bottom of the group and Italy bid an acrimonious farewell to Brasil after Luis Suárez was accused of biting Giorgio Chielliniʼs shoulder.

There were controversies in Belo Horizonte too. Campbellʼs early shot was clearly deflected by Gary Cahillʼs hand – accidentally – yet the referee gave a goal-kick. The officials a lunge by Raheem Sterling on Gamboa, giving a corner where a card would have been appropriate. Haimoudi also insisted on pulling play back after Gamboa had broken free from Barkleyʼs attempts to swap shirts during play.

While the referee correctly booked Lallana and Giancarlo González for fouls on Bryan Ruiz González and Barkley respectively, the officials made too many mistakes that were easily exposed by replays. There was nothing as controversial as Frank Lampardʼs disallowed goal in this match, but too much is at stake in modern football for mistakes to be tolerated when they are so easy to correct.

Three former World champions Spain, England and Italy failed to make it out of the group stages, while unfancied Costa Rica top the group. Itʼs been an entertaining and strange World Cup so far.

 

Suárez Brace Sinks England

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 19th 2014)

Heʼs Back

A wretched 1-3 defeat against Costa Rica showed that twice world champions Uruguay desperately needed their Liverpool star and Premier Leagueʼs Player of the Year Luís Suárez Díaz if they were to progress deep into the competition. It was Englandʼs misfortune that not quite fully fit or not Suárez was back to torment them with a brace. Not even Wayne Rooneyʼs first goal in the World Cup Finals could cancel the Suárez effect – Uruguay were and are a different team with Suárez.

With just over five minutes left in the first half Nicolás Lodeiro Benítez passed to Edinson Cavani Gómez on left edge of area. Cavaniʼs chipped cross was superbly headed in to Hartʼs right by Suárez. Uruguay led until 75 minutes. Daniel Sturridge released Glen Johnson on the right wing. Johnsonʼs cross led to a tap-in for Rooney to equal Michael Owen in 4th place for goals scored for England with 40. Only Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton are ahead of him.

Suárez broke English hearts with six minutes remaining. Galatasarayʼs Fernando Muslera Micolʼs long kick up-field flicked off Steven Gerrardʼs head into the path of prolific Liverpool team-mate. Suárez lashed it into the top centre of the goal past Joe Hart for the winner. There was no way back for England whose only hope of qualification now is Italy beating Costa Rica and Uruguay while they beat Costa Rica, relying on goal difference to oust both Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Turning Point

With Diego Lugano Moreno injured, Oscar Tábaraez Sclavo handed the captaincy to Atlético de Madridʼs Diego Godín Leal. Godín was rightly booked with less than ten minutes played for deliberate handball to Daniel Sturridgeʼs through ball. Rooneyʼs free-kick cleared the wall, but curled just wide.

Spanish referee Carlos Vellasco Carballo did not cover himself in glory when he failed to show a second yellow to Godín for a blatant arm in Sturridgeʼs throat .– yet another in a growing list of refereeing errors that could have been cleared up by replays, although itʼs hard to see how the referee could have seen enough to give the foul and not the second yellow card that would have ended Godínʼs night.

But that could have been evened up. Gerrardʼs petulant foul on Cristian Rodríguez Barotti got a deserved card, but colour should arguably have been different.

To and Fro

After 15 minutes Phil Jagielkaʼs slip released Rodríguez, but the Atlético de Madrid wingerʼs shot just cleared the bar. Fifteen minutes later Gerrardʼs floating free-kick was just too high for Rooney to get above. Rooneyʼs header hit the crossbar. Ten minutes later Rooneyʼs pass freed Sturridge, but Muslera saved at the expense of a corner.

Suárez nearly doubled Uruguayʼs lead with less than five minutes of the second half played, but Hart clawed it away at his near post. With an hour gone Álvaro Pereira Barragán was accidentally knocked unconscious by a knee in the head. He angrily rejected medical advice and insisted on playing on.

England looked likeliest to grab the win after Rooneyʼs first strike in the World Cup Finals. Leighton Baines gave Sturridge the opportunity to grab his second of the campaign, but Muslera saved well. Suárez capitalised to leave England needing favours and Uruguay in a better position, but possibly needing a favour too. If Costa Rica beat Italy tomorrow the Central Americans – supposed whipping boys of this group will definitely be through to the last sixteen and will face an eliminated England. A draw will also eliminate England and mean that Uruguay would have to beat Italy or rely on a favour from England in the final round of group matches.

 

England Fall Short

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 14th 2014)

Super Mario

AC Milanʼs Mario Balotelli headed Cesare Prandelliʼs Azzurri to victory over England in Manaus despite an impressive performance by Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling. Daniel Sturridge feel for an excellent dummy by Italyʼs creative maestro Andrea Pirlo for Claudio Marchisio to score from inside the area. Sturridge recovered well as England responded immediately with the equaliser.

Balotelli has had his critics – plenty of them. There were calls for him not to be selected, especially after Prandelli imposed a behaviour code – he seems to have taken the line of pragmatic expediency over the moral principles he espoused over both Balotelli and Giorgio Chiellini, but both were crucial players, especially now. Gianluigi Buffon was injured and Ricardo Montolivo was ruled out of the World Cup after breaking a leg in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland.

Balotelliʼs talent is unquestioned – his attitude is a different matter. Apart from scoring the goal that condemned England to a crunch match against Uruguay – both of whom lost their opening match – Balotelli almost embarrassed former team mate Joe Hart. He attempted an audacious chip from a tight angle on the left with Hart stranded. Only a fantastic goal-line clearance by Phil Jagielka saved England from going in at half-time a goal behind.

Young Guns

Paris Saint-Germainʼs Salvatore Sirigu, deputising for Buffon, was relieved to see Sterlingʼs 6th minute effort hit the side netting. Liverpoolʼs winger was at the heart of Englandʼs best work, playing in his preferred position with Wayne Rooney out on the left. He left his defensive duties of helping out Leighton Baines – it almost cost his team as Antonio Candreva exploited the extra space t unleash a long-range effort that was parried by Hart.

Although clear chances had been at a premium for the Azzurri, they opened the scoring after Pirloʼs sublime dummy from a corner teed up Marchisio. England had efforts by Jordan Henderson and Sturridge test the Italian defence if not Sirigu. There were plenty of near things without actual shots as crosses tantalisingly eluded Danny Welbeck and also Sturridge. The equaliser showed how to break the Italian defence as England controlled the flanks.

Rooney had a very disappointing effort before capitalising on excellent work by Sterling to win possession and find him on the left wing. Rooneyʼs cross was converted by Sturridge. Englandʼs physiotherapist Gary Lewin was injured during the exuberant celebrations. His ankle was dislocated and he was stretchered off the pitch at Manaus.

Five minutes into the second half Candrevaʼs cross was headed in by Balotelli. Meanwhile, Sterling caused problems for Chiellini while Candreva exploited the space afforded him on the right flank. In injury time Pirlo showed just why he is so highly rated. Thiago Motta was brought down by Cahill. Pirloʼs free-kick seemed to defy the laws of science as Hart moved to his left only to see the ball swerve to his right. The crossbar saved his blushes, but England were beaten. With Uruguay crashing to their first ever defeat to Costa Rica both teams face a must-win match in the next round of matches in group D.

 

Ecuador Surprise Three Lions

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 4th 2014)

Entertaining Draw

 

Enner Valencia surprised Roy Hodgson’s England with a powerful header that gave number-two goal-keeper Ben Foster no chance with less than 10 minutes played. England had cause to be grateful that Reinaldo Rueda – one of three Colombian coaches to grace the forthcoming World Cup – gave Ecuador’s number-two keeper Máximo Banguera a chance to impress. He failed to take it.

Banguera made a complete hash of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross. The error was costly. Banguera seemed to pull out of punching clear. Rickie Lambert was unlucky to see his back-heel hit the post, but Wayne Rooney ended his goal-drought with a tap-in – his 39th international goal after 29 minutes.

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Lambert deserved a goal for his efforts and it came six minutes into the second half. After a scintillating run at the Ecuadoran defence by the impressive Ross Barkley, Lambert was released on the right of the area. His shot across Banguera gave England the lead.

Despite the defensive frailties of Milner and also Chris Smalling on the right, exposed by Ayovi and Jefferson Montero, England enjoyed a spell on top before substitute Michael Arroyo completed the scoring with the pick of the goals. He unleashed an unstoppable effort from the edge of the penalty area to Foster’s left.

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A draw was a fair result with positives for both sides, but negatives too. The injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain was the most worrying aspect. He will have a scan tomorrow, but his World Cup could be over before the tournament has started. Luke Shaw was withdrawn as a precaution – Jack Wilshere too.

Irresponsible

Referee, Jack Wilshere, Chris Smalling,  Jair Maruffo has a reputation in the USA. He’s not highly rated. He tends to fail to stamp his authority early and the belatedly try to regain it with a flurry of late cards. With just over ten minutes remaining substitute Raheem Sterling lunged at Antonio Valencia with studs showing. Cards have been given for less, but this was a friendly.

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The last England player dismissed in a a friendly was almost four decades ago. Trevor Cherry was sent off against Argentina in Buenos Aires in 1977. Ecuador’s skipper was not impressed and remonstrated with Sterling with hands raised, including at Sterling’s throat. A brawl ensued and both were shown red cards. Despite far from flattering chants directed at Muraffo, both cards were justified.

Friendly or not, both players were irresponsible and need to mature fast. Valencia, as captain, needs to show a better example and Sterling needs to eliminate such rash challenges from his game.

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Lessons

Both Banguera and Foster showed why they are not their respective countries’ top goal-keepers. Foster was almost embarrassed twice. Enner Valencia beat the keeper who had strayed out of his area to chase a through ball, but the forward’s effort just missed, sparing Foster’s blushes. Banguera failed to impress too.

Milner is not an option at right-back. It’s not his position for a reason. He was a weak link there. The defence – Hodgson’s stated priority – was not resolved today. Smalling failed to impress too and Shaw – cover for Leighton Baines – was withdrawn. The forwards were a different matter.

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If fit enough to play Oxlade-Chamberlain pressed his claims for a starting position. Lambert probably won’t displace Daniel Sturridge, but did his chances no harm tonight. Ross Barkley had a fine match. Hodgson wanted players to impress him. Barkley surely did that and Rooney’s mini goal-drought has ended, leaving him one shy of Michael Owen’s tally for England.

And Ecuador learned some lessons too. Rueda must take his captain aside and impress upon him that he cannot retaliate, whatever the justification. As captain he must set an example. There is no doubt that Ecuador are a good side, capable of playing attractive attacking football. Rueda knows that his team pushed England close without automatic choice when not injured Segundo Castillo.

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Enner Valencia showed he knows where the goal is. Montero and Avoyi will test far better right-backs than Milner and if Arroyo does not start in the World Cup, he is certainly a very good option to have on the bench. France, Switzerland and Saturday’s opponents for the three lions, Honduras, will write off Ecuador at their peril.

Meanwhile, Italy’s Cesare Prandelli has problems. Friendly or not being held to a 1-1 draw by Luxembourg is far below the standards expected of an Azzurri team – even a B-team.

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Three Lions Given Roaring Send-off to World Cup

ENGLAND World Cup Wembley Warm up: FT Jagielka 69′, 64′ Cahill, 32′ Sturridge ENGLAND 3-0 PERU. Three Lions’ confidence boosting win for BRAZIL

Kick off time at Wembley tonight

by RICHARD IV
@lmenin at the Wembley Stadium
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ENGLAND V PERU FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL
ENGLAND (4-2-3-1)
Joe Hart (Gk)
Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines:
Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard;
Alan Lallana, Daniel Welbeck, Wayne Rooney;
Daniel Sturridge
Coach: Roy Hodgson
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PERU (4-2-3-1)
Raul Fernandez (Gk)
Christian Ramos, Alberto Rodriguez, Alexander Callens, Yoshimar Yotun;
Luis Advincula, Josepmir Ballon;
Jean Deza, Luis Ramirez, Ronaldo Cruzado;
Andre Carrillo
Coach: Pablo Bengoechea
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WEMBLEY. 15′ In the best stadium in the world is nil – nil so far. Good fresh football by Peru, heavy legs in the England side so far.

Up to the 16′ plenty of chances for the South Americans on the break. On the last one Joe Hart had to quickly and promptly come off his penalty box to intercept a dangerous ball through.
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18′ On the up side for the Three Lions had their wonder chance with Walbeck who just sthoot
wide from wide inside the box.

32′ GOOAAAL for ENGLAND. After the missed chance England kept the pressure on the Peruvian so on a thrown by Glen Johnson almost on the corner kick, Daniel Sturridge let the ball come inside eluding the marker, continued along the 18 yds line and then when at the beginning of the D shape lashed out a bended-dropping ball into the top corner.  The marvelous 87,000 passionate England crowds that filled up the best stadium in the world (Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer’s words) exploded in awe.
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34′. Rooney’s header just above the bar from a Gerrard free kick

44′ Colossal chance for Peru to equalize was Ramirez was freed  in front of Hart who bravely deflected in corner with a leg.

SECOND HALF
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64′ GOALL by ENGLAND. On the a corner kick Cahill after a few struggling with the opponents defenders managed to find himself on a ball dropping just above Welbeck’s head and to drove powerfully into the net.

69′ GOOAL for ENGLANd. Following another corner, the ball came into the hand of the Peru’s goalie who, disturbed by a team mate, lost the ball that dropped just on the path of Phil Jagielka who easily tapped in the empty goal.

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ENGLAND WORLD CUP WEMBLEY WARM UP: HT 32′ STURRIDGE ENGLAND 1-0 PERU KO 20.00

by RICHARD IV

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@lmenin at the Wembley Stadium

WEMBLEY. The best stadium in the world Nil – nil so far. Good fresh football by Peru, heavy legs in the England side so far.

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Up to the 16′ plenty of chances for the South Americans on the break. On the last one Joe Hart had to quickly and promptly come off his penalty box to intercept a dangerous ball through.
18′ On the up side for the Three Lions had their wonder chance with Sturridge who just shot  wide from wide inside the box.

32′ GOOAAAL for ENGLAND. After the missed chance England kept the pressure on the Peruvian so on a thrown by Glen Johnson almost on the corner kick, Daniel Sturridge let the ball come inside eluding the marker, continued along the 18 yds line and then when at the beginning of the D shape lashed out a bended-dropping ball into the top corner. The passionate England crowds that filled up the best stadium in the world (Beckenbauer’s words) exploded in awe.

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34′. Rooney’s header just above the bar from a Gerrard free kick

44 Luis Ramirez of Corinthians has great chance. Joe Hart sticks out a leg and concedes a corner. Great chance.

England lead 1-0 at half time. Peru have silenced a few critics!