Fearless?

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (September 7th 2014)

Facts

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Facts have a habit of being pesky, especially when trying to defend the seemingly indefensible. Englandʼs performance against a far from impressive Norwegian line-up was poor. Victory by a single goal at home while hardly testing the Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland was uninspiring and did not bode well for the test to come on Monday, a far better Switzerland, who impressed at the World Cup.

Hodgson, a former manager of Switzerland knows the strengths of the Swiss. England needed a confidence-boosting victory to take to the Alpine nation. Hodgson talked Norway up, describing them as good opposition – better than Perú – but there was no disguising the fact that Norway was ranked 53 in the world for a reason and were rebuilding too.

Hodgsonʼs Plea

Although his annoyance seized the headlines Hodgson had valid points too, but not in his defence of Englandʼs performance, which was quite frankly drab. Switzerlandʼs new manager Vladimir Petković, who succeeded Ottmar Hitzfeld will have seen little to instil fear in him prior to Mondayʼs qualification tie in Basel. However, the old guard has retired, or been retired and the new breed will take time to settle in.

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Some of these players are top-class players in the making, but the players are in the making”, Hodgson said. “You canʼt play five or six games for England and be a regular at Liverpool for six or seven months and then be David Beckham. You canʼt be Phil Jones with all the injuries he has had and nail down a place in the Manchester United first team and then become John Terry. You canʼt be Jack Wlishere, who has lost all that football through injury and then all of a sudden be Bryan Robson. Letʼs be fair on all of these things. Thatʼs all I am asking”.

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Nevertheless, with the players available to him England should be beating Norway comfortably.

They were humiliated 6-0 by France just before the World Cup and face a difficult task qualifying for the Euro2016 despite the expansion from 16 to 24 teams.

Denial

Norway was a team that England should have beaten comfortably. Thereʼs no disguising that fact, however much Hodgson wanted media and fans to believe that England had beaten a good team with a performance to match. It simply wasnʼt the case.

If we had played badly, if a lot of players had had really poor performances, if the quality of our passing and our movement was nothing like I wanted to see and if our defending wasn’t as compact, aggressive and organised as it was for large periods, I would be the first to say so”, Hodgson said. “But I am not going to say it’s not that, just because we had a bad World Cup”.

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An uncomfortable fact was that despite the possession and even domination that Hodgson pointed to in his defence of the performance Joe Hart, captain for a few minutes, after Rooney was substituted, was the busier keeper, twice denying Joshua King with good saves. Norway was a pale shadow of former glories, but Hodgson was having none of it.

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. “Donʼt hit me with statistics. 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 Long Hang-Over

Fresh from a disappointing display at the World Cup, Hodgson needed a good performance to regain the trust of fans. It wasnʼt forthcoming, but Hodgson defended thought that England had in fact played well. There was a lot of euphoria before the World Cup”, he said. “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”.

It didnʼt convince, but Hodgson was far from finished.

We were getting 75,000 people to see us play Perú, who, with respect, were nowhere near as difficult an opponent as Norway and now we have 40,000”, Hodgson said regarding a match that had simply failed to entice support after what was considered a poor showing in the World Cup.

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Belligerent

The normally mild-mannered and softly-spoken Roy Hodgson had had enough. Sensing stinging criticism coming the England manager got his retaliation in. The facts showed that only two shots on goal registered. Wayne Rooneyʼs goal from the penalty spot and Danny Welbeckʼs shot from about 15 yards out, which Nyland saved.

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”, Hodgson said.

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Even if there were shots that were blocked England have to deliver better against such teams, but Hodgson refused to accept that the performance was below par. “You have seen us work very hard to create chances”, he said. “You have seen players get in behind defenders in wide areas and miss crosses and, yes, I am not terribly happy about that. I would have liked the crosses to be a little bit better. I would have liked two of three of those shots to get past the blocking player and whiz past the goal. I would have liked Daniel Sturridge’s magnificent effort, from that wonderful pass, not to land on the roof of the net”.

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But that shot didnʼt go in. The crosses were not as good as they should have been and shots were blocked and the performance was not up to the standard expected.

I saw a 10-to-15-minute period in the second half when I thought we were nowhere near what I wanted to see. I thought we lost the aggression in our defending and we didn’t attack anywhere near as well. Joe had to make a good save from a corner, and Norway almost scored again from a Gary Cahill back-pass. But we saw a different system then. We changed it around and I saw some very positive moments”.

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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.

 

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.

 

Fine-tuning

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 7th 2014)

Last Chance

England will take on Honduras this afternoon in the searing heat of Miami’s summer. The match kicks off at 4.45 local time. It will be hot and humid – hopefully similar to conditions in Manaus. “We have to make sure we can play 90 minutes in the heat”,England’s manager Roy Hodgson said.

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That still left the question of why Miami rather than in Brasil itself where conditions would be what England will experience in the World Cup, rather than similar? Hodgson had previously defended the choice of Miami rather than Brasil for the friendlies.

The best known of Honduras’ players are Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa, although the youngest member of the squad Andy Najar plays for Anderlecht. Both teams will be looking to avoid injuries and go to the World Cup equipped to progress. Honduras has never progressed to the second round and nor has Ecuador – they meet in Curitiba on June 20th.

Defensive

Hodgson was defensive of Raheem Sterling, even though the Liverpool winger is banned for this match after his red card against Ecuador. Hodgson belatedly accepted that Sterling’s challenge on Ecuador’s captain Antonio Valencia was reckless and that the American referee was entitled to send Sterling off for it.

The starting line-up will be far closer to the team likely to play in Brasil. A back four of Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will aim to ensure that Joe Hart has little to do. Steven Gerrard and club colleague Jordan Henderson will anchor the midfield. In attack Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge didn’t feature against Ecuador and Adam Lallana may be due a run out too. Wayne Rooney is expected to start as well.

The Promise of Youth

Hodgson faces a difficult decision or two. He clearly rates both Sterling and Everton’s Ross Barkley, but Hodgson has to decide whether this tournament has come too soon for them. He believes that they will be part of England’s future for the next decade. The question is are they part of England’s present?

Sterling has shown the impetuousness of youth, but Hodgson refused to say that Sterling showed a lack of discipline. Instead, Hodgson chose to stress that Sterling was trying to help out the defence with his pace and that he was not worried about discipline.

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After the match against Ecuador Hodgson seemed irritable when Barkley’s performance was singled out for praise, stressing that Barkley had made mistakes giving the ball away – mistakes repeated in training yesterday, along with the skills that had singled him out for praise.

Hodgson was keen to set the record straight. He was determined to protect Barkley as an investment in England’s future. “If I try and protect Ross Barkley I make no apologies about that,’’ Hodgson told journalists at yesterday’s press conference. “I have seen people praised to the skies after a good performance and then brought back down to earth with a massive bump and I don’t want that to happen with Ross or Raheem or Luke [Shaw] because I think they have a lot of England games ahead of them. We are talking 10 to 12 years”.

While Sterling definitely won’t play against Honduras, Barkley may get some playing time – not a bad option as Hodgson will have to make a decision on how he fits into his World Cup plans, or even if he does at all. Captain Steven Gerrard is excited about the young players too.

But while England have a talented group of youngsters coming through they hardly compare to Belgium’s current crop. Thibaut Courtois excelled again for Spanish champions Atlético de Madrid. Eden Hazard has turned the heads of a few top clubs in Europe with his displays for Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku isn’t short of top clubs chasing his signature either and all three are fixtures in Belgium’s first team.

Style

While Hodgson’s focus is rightly on his squad, Ecuador and Honduras were chosen as opponents because Hodgson believed that there is a South American style of football and a Central American one too. Recent opponents in friendlies at Wembley have included Chile and Perú. They have also played Brasil home and away recently too. Interestingly, Honduras are the only Central American opponents England will face within a year of the World Cup.

Perhaps they rue a missed opportunity. The first match Wales played after the tragic death of Gary Speed was against Costa Rica. What price now to have had a friendly against them then? But at least there are videos of Wales’ match against them available for Hodgson and his team to study.

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The coaches of both opponents of England’s pre-World Cup tour of Miami, Ecuador and Honduras are Colombians. Luís Fernando Suárez and Reinaldo Rueda know each other well. Both say there is no specific style of South American football or Central American football, even though England chose these opponents with Uruguay and Costa Rica in mind.

In the end it [comparison] doesn’t really exist”, Rueda said at his pre-match press conference. “These are preparation games and teams are not really the same”. Suárez agrees. “There is no central American style”, he said yesterday. “I respect all the type of football the Hondurans play. It is fast and strong, but there is not a specific style of football in Central America. The Colombian coaches have not changed the way they play – only implemented our tactics. That’s the way we Colombian coaches work – with tactics”.

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In short, Honduras will play a Honduran style based on its culture and philosophy with Colombian tactical acumen. Just how similar that is to Costa Rica remains to be seen.

 

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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