No Challengers?

by Nathan Adams ©Nathan Adams (November 15th 2014)

Nathan Adams at Wembley

Centurions

Manchester Unitedʼs Wayne Rooney marked his 100th appearance with a real captainʼs performance, which anchored the Three Lions to a 3-1 win against Srečko Katanecʼs Slovenian side. Nearly 300 male players have reached that milestone – the most recent being the Republic of Irelandʼs John OʼShea yesterday. Two more are due to join the club tomorrow in the same match Italy v Croatia – Romaʼs one club defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi and VfL Wolfsburgʼs Ivica Olić. But this evening was about Rooney.

They have a long way to go if they intend to catch the man with the most caps, Egyptian great Ahmed Hassan on 184. They certainly wonʼt match the most capped international footballer of all time, the USAʼs Kristine Lilly, who is a full 51 caps ahead of her nearest competitor. Lilly boasts an incredible 352 caps!

Captainʼs Performance

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After a goalless and rather drab first half, the match sprang to life when Slovenia took the lead through a Jordan Henderson own-goal from Milivoje Novakovićʼs cross. Almost straight from the kick-off England attacked. Sloveniaʼs captain Boštjan Cesar inexplicably upended Rooney in the box, earning a booking and conceding a penalty which Rooney dispatched to settle Englandʼs nerves and keep the over 80,000 crowd onside.

Slovenia Celebrate

Mariborʼs goalkeeper Samir Hanadanović got a hand to it, but could not deny Rooney his goal, which brought him level on Englandʼs all time list with the great Jimmy Greaves. Only Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of him – he could claim third place in his own right against Scotland on Tuesday night in Glasgow. With nerves settled the stage was set for Arsenalʼs Danny Welbeck to grab some headlines of his own, netting a brace.

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Handanović denied Liverpoolʼs Adam Lallana with his legs, but it was headed out carelessly by Mišo Brečko to Welbeck who scuffed his shot past the crestfallen keeper. A neat interchange of passes with Liverpoolʼs Raheem Sterling got the finish it deserved from Welbeck to give England their third and the former Manchester United Striker his second.

False Dawn?

Slovenia made their presence felt by throwing in some very physical challenges early on. Luckily no England players were hurt as a result of the crunching tactics begun by Aleš Mertelj in the first 5 minutes. Lallana was left in a crumpled heap. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença had a firm word with the Mariborʼs midfielder after another rustic challenge on Rooney after 12 minutes.

Ales Mertelj

But that was to be expected. Slovenia came to spoil and smash and grab. England had to outwit these tactics and in the first half they didnʼt have an answer. Throughout the first half England seemed to have no sense of direction in relation to their play and unaware of the movement of their own team players around them.

What seems to be definitely missing from the team is a strong play-maker in the centre of midfield. Having Rooney up front is all well and good, but a player with the same influence and respect from both team-mates and opposition is a must for midfield. Through out the first half I donʼt believe there was any direct play from the England team. Over 90 percent of the crosses were very poor quality and incomplete.

Positives

There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw an injection of pace with Sterling playing in multiple positions sometimes in front of midfield and others deep in midfield and being the centre of movement within the team. Slovenia took a shock lead after 57 minutes due to Henderson’s header. Joe Hart had no chance.

Slovenia Celebrate

Thankfully, due to the new Captain Marvel, we didnʼt need to wait very long for a reply, as he won the penalty and converted it. After 58 minutes game on! England seemed to grow in confidence with direct passing and fluent movement. Sterling continued his runs from a forward position and then deep in midfield.

Despite being named Man of the Match it seemed as though Wilshere is not putting in as much work as Sterling in midfield. I thought that Sterling, rather than Wilshere should have had the award. Another positive was the performance of Southamptonʼs Nathaniel Clyne who had a decent game and grew from strength to strength as the match progressed. Overall a well deserved 3-1 win for England, which established a substantive six point lead at the top of the group after four matches.

England Celebrate Goal

Upset

During the press conference I had the pleasure of asking England manager Roy Hodgson about my personal view of the teamʼs performance. “Do you feel that the lack of awareness and link up play was an issue as players are unaware of team-mateʼs movement”. Hodgson was neither impressed nor amused. “No”, he replied tersely before rapidly moving on to the next question.

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The Slovenian team were also upset with the FA as they were advised that the team were not allowed to walk from the nearby Hilton Hotel to Wembley Stadium. They had wanted to savour every moment of the Wembley experience, although it later emerged that they didnʼt really think that they could or would get a result at Wembley. They came looking for a point. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them as both Mertelj and Chievoʼs winger Valter Birsa implied afterwards.

Valter Birsa

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All-rounder

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 15th 2014)

Records

Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck scored a brace against Srečko Katanec’s Slovenia at Wembley tonight. That brought his international tally to 13. Of the current England squad Welbeck and former Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney are the only players in double figures. Welbeck is a full 31 goals behind Rooney, who tied the great Jimmy Greaves for third place on the all-time scorers list for England tonight.

Welbeck matched Ipswich Town’s Paul Mariner, Tottenham Hotspur duo Bobby Smith and Martin Chivers with his brace. He may also tied one other – the least known of the quintet, but the only one to have once held the scoring record – Nottingham Forest’s Tinsley Lindley. Shamefully, despite being an icon in and out of the sporting arena the multi-faceted Lindley was buried in an unmarked grave in 1940. A campaign to honour the shamefully neglected all-rounder resulted in a headstone marking his final resting place being unveiled in March 2014.

Long Overdue

An appreciation of this neglected icon of English sport is long overdue. Lindley scored at least 13 goals for England in internationals between 1891-96. His record was beaten by Steve Bloomer and then equalled by Vivian Woodward. Later Sir Tom Finney broke their record and was equalled by Nat Lofthouse. Jimmy Greaves and then Sir Bobby Charlton broke it again and Lindley was forgotten about.

But Lindley was an all-round sportsman. Not only was he an effective striker, mainly for Nottingham Forest and England, but he was a talented rugby player in his youth and played First Class Cricket for Cambridge University and Nottinghamshire, although he didn’t play many matches. Lindley was also a barrister and later judge too – a genuine all-rounder on and off the field of play.

Wales Stays Top

by Satish Sekar at the Cardiff City Stadium © Satish Sekar (October 18th 2014)

The Dragons Deliver

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A sublime team goal finished off by Readingʼs Hal Robson-Kanu was the winner as Wales – reduced to ten men early in the second half – held on to beat Cyprus 2-1 in Cardiff tonight. A first minute injury forced Simon Church from the pitch. He was eventually replaced by Cardiff Cityʼs David Cotterill. It proved to be an inspired substitution by Walesʼ manager Chris Coleman.

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With 12 minutes gone Cotterrillʼs cross from the left flank eluded everyone. There is a reason that APOELʼs keeper Tasos Kissas is not Pambos Christodoulouʼs first choice. If there was any doubt it was removed by an absolutely awful performance between the sticks. He spilled far more than he held, or even parried and almost deserved an assist on Cotterillʼs goal, failing to make any contact. To his embarrassment it went straight in.

If the first had traces of the ridiculous, the second was superb – a goal worthy of winning any match. It began deep in Welsh territory with skipper Ashley Williams finding Andy King in space. Kingʼs pass to Gareth Bale was flicked on exquisitely by the worldʼs most expensive footballer for Robson-Kanu to latch onto and shoot between Kissasʼ legs midway through the first half.

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Errors

Wales dominated play, but an uncharacteristic blunder by Crystal Palaceʼs Wayne Hennessey after 36 minutes brought the Cypriots back into the game. Vincent Labanʼs free-kick from the right wing had echoes of Cotterillʼs goal, although Labanʼs effort went in off Hennesseyʼs hand. It also had a small dose of irony as it was Cotterillʼs challenge that gave the free-kick away.

Meanwhile, some rustic Cypriot challenges, especially on Bale were going unpunished. Cards were brandished, but Bale was denied protection. Four years earlier Wayne Rooney blasted the refereeʼs performance in Englandʼs match against Montenegro. He claimed that the German referee Manuel Gräfe failed to protect players from ʻagriculturalʼ challenges. It was a similar story tonight as Gräfe refused to protect Bale adequately. Coleman wasnʼt aware of the precedent, but he didnʼt seem surprised when we informed him about it.

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Within three minutes of the restart a poorly timed challenge by Andy King on Cyprusʼ captain Constantinos Makridis gave Gräfe the opportunity to brandish a red card. Bale protested vociferously and Gräfe booked him. It made for a nervy second half. It was far from pretty football, but it was effective and the points were the priority – mission accomplished.

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Inconsistent”, was Williamsʼ one-word summary of Gräfeʼs refereeing tonight. Coleman went further. “The referee”? Coleman said. “Iʼm not going to … Iʼm disappointed, not because Gareth Bale is our star player, but he needs – players need protection. The Cypriot players need protection if weʼre going to go in heavy. The refereeʼs there to say that, but thatʼs not happening and vice versa, but we never felt that we got enough protection, no”.

Coleman went further. “I think players like Bale, Messi and Ronaldo, more often than not, theyʼre in possession, theyʼre running into trouble,” he said. “If youʼre going to get kicked and youʼre expecting to get kicked, thatʼs football, but the refereeʼs there to make sure that people are punished and if theyʼre not being punished – if too many things are going to be left alone – then the defenderʼs going to come back and do the same thing more and more if heʼs not being punished, so that shouldnʼt happen”.

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Cometh the Hour

Not since the heady days of Gary Speedʼs reign as Wales manager have team and fans shared such belief that the Dragons will qualify for the finals of a major tournament again. His legacy is in tact. After a difficult start Coleman clearly has his players playing for him and wanting to represent Wales.

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Wales remain top of Group B. Andorra remain rooted to the bottom, but the nature of their pitch and tactics mean they are harder to beat than many expected. Despite their heroics at the World Cup Safet Sušićʼs Bosnia-Herzegovina are under-achieving. Belgium on four points have a game in hand against Israel, who are in second place to Wales a point behind with a game in hand and Cyprus have three, but have now lost to both Israel and Wales.

While everyone expected Belgium to win the group, the battle for qualification is proving far more open than expected. Before playing Wales, Cypriot manager Christodoulou offered these prophetic words. “I think Belgium is a very strong team and favourite for the first place of the group”, he said. “The rest of the teams will fight for the second and third place. With the results we have seen so far I think all the teams have the right to dream, have the right to fight for the second or third place in the group”.

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Coleman agrees it is an open group. “Weʼve said, letʼs get half way through the group and letʼs be up there – there or thereabouts to make sure we keep the excitement going, keep the public interested in it and weʼre doing that, you know, topping the group after three games”, he said. “Thatʼs good. Now weʼve got to go into the lionʼs den next month in Belgium. Iʼm looking forward to it. It will be a good game and weʼve got go there and get something and then players will relax after that, so itʼs all to play for”. An appointment with history appears within their grasp.

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The Ides of October

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 10th 2014)

BPL – Under Starter’s Orders

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There are two things on my mind this weekend – the Barclays Premier league and Nigeria’s match against Sudan! I am thinking and looking closely at the real contenders for this season’s BPL trophy already. Just one week into the league season I noted that Chelsea FC looked very seriously like the team to beat this season – not much insight needed there. But Manchester United was proving an enigma. Was last season just a blip, or is there a bigger problem?

Until last week Manchester United looked out of sorts with the much travelled and successful Louis Van Gaal wondering whatever happened to his football magic wand. Van Gaal conceded that this has been his worst and most challenging experience since he started coaching and he acknowledged how difficult it now appeared to be for the club to rise again and play like the champions of old.

Although it is still morning in the league, the signs don’t indicate a typical Man United resurgence. Whatever happened to Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and the new mercurial on-loan striker, Radamel Falcao? Colombia’s talisman looks lost in the team, although he and United have the class to demand not to be written off. Falcao has scored goals wherever he [plays, but ominously United don’t play the way that he has thrived on.

English football’s most expensive player, the Argentinian Ángel di María, may well become the Joker in the pack and alter the fortunes of Man U for good if and when he hits full throttle and finally starts to play as well as we all know he is capable of doing. There’s no doubt that United have bought class players and paid well for them. It remains to be seen whether they will deliver and what place if any will be found for the club’s previous record signing Juan Mata.

Fluctuating Arsenal

The Gunners spent heavily this season, but results show that they still need to spend some more to get the perfect combination going. The Chilean winger Alexis Sánchez arrived from FC Barçelona sporting great credentials, but for me, he has been a great disappointment.

His performances during the World Cup for Chile were so fantastic that even I believed that any club would be lucky to pry him away from Cataluña. Instead, he has looked rather slow and uncertain about how to play in Arsenal, just as the team also continues to display great vulnerability when defending. He may just need time to adjust to a new league and team and his team-mates to him, but football is not known for patience.

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The team’s performance has kept oscillating between mouth-watering brilliance and the abysmal. Arsenal also, like Manchester United, have not played like potential champions. Arsène Wenger still needs to make use of the next transfer window for players that can to shore up the team’s defence. Otherwise, despite celebrating 18 years at Arsenal recently – the longest serving manager in the BPL currently – this may be his last season with the Gunners.

Liverpool face different problems. They have just not struck a great rhythm yet. They have played with the promise of great things, but have failed to be firm in their delivery. There is more bottled up in side the team than being displayed so far. Despite new signings led by Mario Balotelli, along with Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, world class is hard to replace. Warts and all Luis Suárez is world class and proving hard to replace. Liverpool may find a way to click, but in my opinion they are unlikely to walk alone with the crown this time even if on paper they have the capability.

Impressive Defence

Manchester City FC have been impressive. They are improving with every match, and may indeed have the best front line in the Premiership this season with several attacking options upfront led by Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Stevan Jovetić.

Yaya Touré continues to inspire with his week-in week-out textbook demonstration of how to play in central midfield. When in top form he is the perfect bridge between defence and attack. He surely must be in contention for the best central midfield player in the world, and a leading contender for Africa’s next Player of the Year Award again this December!

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But it is Chelsea FC in England (not in Europe where they have looked boring and have been played tamely) that have shown quite clearly their intention to win the Premiership. The team has played every match with the signature of José Mourinho written all over it. The shoving spat between Wenger and Mourinho last weekend, when Chelsea beat Arsenal with consummate ease, really confirmed Chelsea’s strength and determination this season. They are the team playing with the spirit of potential champions.

Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles and the Ides of March!

The last thing on my mind as we approach this weekend is the most discussed issue in Nigerian football at the moment. As Nigeria Super Eagles of play away in Sudan the match could determine Stephen Keshi’s fate as manager of the Super Eagles.

Undoubtedly, while not plumbing the depths of Berti Vogts’ Super Chickens, the Super Eagles have been anything but super since after the World Cup. Before then Keshi could do no wrong. He had amassed the most successful record for a Nigerian in the history of football in the country. Then he took Nigeria to the World Cup where he put up a fairly good performance until some immature behaviour by the players, that many people have said he encouraged and benefited from, crept in to ruin everything he had worked for.

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With a new Executive Committee that appears not to want him but cannot get rid of him easily, he now faces the biggest threat to his stay as manager of the national team. For now he is hanging on to the job by the skin of his teeth and is likely to be laid off should the Super-Eagles fail to impress this weekend.

The biggest thing going for him is the absence of any alternative to him as coach of the Eagles. In this era of ex-internationals, no other Nigerian ex-international has his rich football management credentials. So, to consider anyone amongst a list of the few in his category is difficult. It can’t be justified.

Samson Siasia, whose name is being mentioned as a possible replacement, would be a hard sell. Nothing has happened in Siasia’s career since he was replaced by Keshi to indicate that he is now a different and better coach. Perhaps, Sunday Oliseh? He looks the part, but can he walk the walk?

I do not like the setting of this weekend’s match at all. I wonder why CAF would allow a match of this magnitude to be played on artificial turf. This could well spell doom for the Super Eagles.

I do not like it one bit! The Super Eagles and Stephen Keshi must beware the Ides of March, or should that be the Ides of October. But good luck to the Super Eagles.

Segun at Wembley

England Trounce Minnows

By Derek Miller at Wembley Stadium © Derek Miller (October 9th 2014

ENGLAND v SAN MARINO. GROUP E. Wembley 9.10.14.

With really only Daniel Sturridge missing, a pretty much full England squad eased to a comfortable win over San Marino in England’s second qualifier in Group E at Wembley last night.

With just under 56 000 in attendance, Everton left back, Phil Jagielka, opened the scoring in the 24th minute, heading in neatly from within ten yards via a well taken James Milner corner kick.

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Shortly before the break, in the 42nd minute, Wayne Rooney made it 2-0, from the penalty spot, after attracting a foul in the area, while trying to connect with a corner kick, following an excellent stop from an equally well taken Danny Welbeck effort.

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Four minutes into the second half, the new Arsenal striker, Welbeck opened his account with a neat tap-in inside the keeper’s five yard box to make it 3-0.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, introduced for the second half, could consider himself slightly unlucky to have had a low shot, struck from outside the area, disallowed, in the 61st minute, because Adam Lallana deflected it in while offside.

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Both players got a good reception when Andros Townsend came on for scorer Welbeck after 66 minutes. And six minutes later, Townsend fired in a well struck low shot into the corner from narrowly outside the penalty box, to make it 4-0 just when San Marino keeper, Aldo Simoncini Jnr had made a couple of good saves. Rooney helped make it 5-0, with a deflected shot after 76 minutes. And that’s how it ended.

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Despite the opposition, overall, Roy Hodgson and the team could consider it a good night at the office.

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”.

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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