International Football: Norway 0 – 1 Engerland


Once Upon A Time In Oslo

It doesn’t get any better than this for ‘Appy ‘Arry. Amazingly for ‘Arry and his ‘accolytes in the media, it turned out that Engerland didn’t actually want him as manager after all and went off and, get this, appointed someone else instead! (I mean would you cheddar cheese it!?). Not only that but his ‘potential champions’ of the spring went all daft on him and managed to give third place in the Prem to a team that was out for the count in 16th earlier in the season. And then, he found out that all that hard work coming 4th was for nothing as useless lumpen defensive-minded sixth place Chelsea went and bloody won the Champions League, thereby snatching ‘Appy ‘Arry’s golden Champions League treasure out from under his grasping fingers.  Life eh?

Still it could be worse for ‘Appy ‘Arry. At least he has his ‘olidays to look forward to. Uncle Roy, the man who mischievously stole that Engerland job out from under ‘Arry’s nose, now actually has to go off and manage the bloody side. And in Euro 2012 too, a competition that everyone appears to be looking forward to like passport control queues, a competition Engerland qualified for with surprising ease and which now looks like being little more than an impediment to everyone’s holiday plans.  And get this, the team actually have to play some warm up games too.

All Aboard For Playing Badly…

Engerland’s first warm up in Oslo couldn’t be more of a Roy style game. First off it was up in balmy scandewegia where Roy first made his name as a manager and where he is still revered as a kind of very minor godling sort of thing – right up there with Kleenaro the God of Asgardian street sweeping. A pretty basic test against the kind of side you suspect Roy really admires, hard working, no real stars, good on-pitch playing discipline, nothing spikey, aggressive or eye-catching about them, good old mid-table mediocrities Norway. And Engerland showed every sign of buying into the Uncle Roy Way.

Remember this? For me this passing move out of defence into a threatening attacking position was the most impressive thing about Engerland’s last, relatively lacklustre performance against Holland. It showed that the Engerland players were not only capable of actually passing and moving the ball, but had the nerve to do it under pressure on the international stage. Sadly there was nothing in this dour match against Norway that demonstrated either capability.

Although Uncle Roy has only gained control over the players for less than a week, it’s clear that some of his footballing credo is sinking in. Roy’s a direct football man, maybe not a total devotee of Charles Hughes’ criminal long ball loving publication The Winning Formula: The Football Association Soccer Skills and Tactics (Roy was out there winning things his way long before its publication in 1990),  but a man for whom midfield tikitaka jiggery-pokery is something of an anathema. As a result he restricted his midfield to two players, Gerrard and Parker, thereby effectively forcing the team to play wide or long.

Admittedly it wasn’t all horrendous hoofball ‘lump it in to the big man in the mixer’ tedium, but it wasn’t far off. With a makeshift defence (no Cole, Cahill or Champions League Hero John Terry) whose primary responsibility is to be tight rather than proactive, and a midfield duo whose principle skills are the 180 degree shield, turn and backpass, and the 60 yard Hollywood Hoof to the feet of an opposition player, the only impressive stat the boys were going to bring home was no of completed passes to an opposition player.

Even so, Engerland did what they so often do. Scored early though a nice turn and pass from Carroll and a dribble and scuffer from Ashley Young, then fell back for 80 minutes of chaotic defending on the 18 yard line. And they were so successful at this that Norway ended up looking like Barcelona trying to find a way through the brick wall that was Chelsea.

Sure there were some odd, good moments. Stewart Downing’s miraculous appearance in the team was matched only by the miraculous cross he put in in the third minute which Carroll only just failed to convert. As if to illustrate the rarity of the event, Downing never repeated the feat. Carroll’s good feet when the ball wasn’t punted at him at 90 miles an hour. Wallcott and Oxlade Chamberlain combining for a neat penalty box 1-2, which just didn’t come off.  And Rob Green’s two or three saves, which must have helped him redeem something of his Engerland career.

Yet there’s really nothing good to take home from this game. It’s clear the Engerland players are still petrified of the ball and anxious to get rid of it as soon as it comes to them, they have no coherent plan for moving the ball from defence to attack other than the over the top hoofball, no understanding of how to pull the opposition out of position and create openings and no intention of dominating the midfield and therefore the game.

You can argue that it’s the first game under Roy, that the players are coming off a tough season, but it was clear that many of them, Gerrard, Downing, Invisible Henderson, Barry, Milner and particularly Phil Jones all had spectacularly bad days at the office. It was abundantly clear that, like Barcelona at the Camp Neu, it was Norway who lost it, rather than the visitors who won.

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