Andorra 0 England 2: Cool Cole steps in to awaken England from their slumbers
Substitute makes amends for team's poor first-half display against defensively minded part-timers from Andorra
Sunday 07 September 2008
Against the pot-pourri from the Pyrenees England, eventually, came up smelling of roses. For a while there was a slightly more unpleasant smell as they were dragged into the ordure by their modest but obdurately chippy opponents, a rag-bag of part-timers and obscure but in-your-face journeymen. It was Joe Cole who scented success with two rapid goals after coming on as a substitute just as he had done in his last appearance. Ten goals for his country now for Cole and the last three of those have come inside 10 minutes of play.
England go forward to meet Croatia. It will be a whole new ball game in Zagreb, which may be a relief. Attack against defence, as it was last night, can be tedious for the participants as much as the spectators but neither was there much on display for Slaven Bilic to fear. For Fabio Capello, though not a happy figure, there were three points and for a deep-rooted pragmatist like the Italian that was all that really mattered in his first competitive match as England's manager.
There were boos. Just like the last time England played Andorra. And there wasn't a goal until after half-time. Just like the last time England played Andorra. But Capello brushed all this aside as he would a speck of dirt on his immaculately pressed FA blazer. "When we started they were clapping," he said of the supporters. "And afterwards they were happy. That is the most important thing."
Indeed it is. Capello had called for a rapid start in his first competitive game in charge and tried to engineer that with a rapid team. In came Theo Walcott – for his third cap and his first start at the age of 19 – Glen Johnson and Stewart Downing. The latter two proved ineffective while Walcott, after an opening 15 minutes in which he threatened to rip Andorra apart – Capello even called him "incredible" – faded.
Within the first minute Walcott had broken down the right and cut the ball back. Jermain Defoe stole in but goalkeeper Koldo gathered quickly. Then Wayne Rooney cleverly released Walcott again but he angled his shot over before both Johnson and Rooney flashed efforts wide.
Suddenly there were 17 minutes on the clock. So what did constitute an early goal? England were urgent, perhaps a little too eager in trying to release the ball down the wings. When John Terry threw himself at a corner, it gave the Andorrans an opportunity to slow it down with defender Ildefons Lima lying rubbing the back of his head.
It was a familiar tactic. Away to Andorra in that infamous game 18 months ago, there had been complaints of time-wasting while several others received atrocious tackles. Steven Gerrard, absent yesterday through injury, had saved the day then with two second-half goals in a 3-0 win, although so laboured had been England's performance that the FA Yearbook described him as a "hero".
The England fans vented their anger during that game and there soon developed an air of frustration in this. Mild boos followed a couple of overhit passes and Andorra even ventured forward. This a team that have only been playing competitively for 10 years, less than the time David Beckham has been in the England squad, and have won only three matches and never outside the principality. They had already completed a game in this campaign, losing 3-0 in Kazakhstan, with all those goals coming in the first period. To balance that it must be remembered that in Andorra's last competitive game in this stadium, Russia only got the three points they needed to overtake England for a place at Euro 2008 with a 1-0 victory and Andrei Arshavin sent off.
Not that a single England supporter will have given that much thought as they watched their team toil. They tried to stretch the play but this, against 10 men committed to defence, was a difficult task. England started to hurry against the team that harried. More errors crept in, and on the touchline Capello folded his arms more tightly across his chest.
The ineffective Downing left, as did Defoe. Rooney, a crushing disappointment, was fortunate to win a reprieve but that was forgotten as England, finally, scored. On 48 minutes – just six minutes quicker than it took to strike against Andorra last time – Johnson was brought down as he cut inside. Frank Lampard whipped in the free-kick, Joleon Lescott helped it on under a challenge and the ball fell to Joe Cole who cracked a right-foot volley into the roof of the net.
It was his first touch having replaced Downing. And, just as against the Czech Republic when he scored that late equaliser, the Chelsea midfielder, frustrated at not starting, saved England. The substitutions made a difference, Cole adding more guile and Emile Heskey more presence. A clearance fell to Terry who struck a low drive into the side-netting. It got better. A smart reverse pass by Rooney released Joe Cole, who ran on to poke the ball under Koldo and score his second. Two goals in six minutes. "Joe Cole at the moment scores goals," said Capello. So why not start with him?
But there was to be no more scoring. Booed off for winning 3-0 last time they were here, England were cheered for a 2-0 scoreline. Such is football but maybe a new pragmatism has set in. That may be no bad thing.
Man for man marking
5 David James An unemployment statistic, so limited was the Andorran attacking intent. Literally had zero saves to make.
6 Glen Johnson Preferred to Wes Brown, the right-back made some typically surging runs, and had a goal disallowed for Cole's offside. Defensively was not stretched at all.
6 John Terry A greater test of the captain's defensive form awaits on Wednesday against Croatia. Here, his forays into the Andorran half were unproductive, his long-range passing too often inaccurate.
6 Joleon Lescott In for the injured Rio Ferdinand, the Everton defender took rather a battering from the robust opposition.
6 Ashley Cole Plenty of chances to advance on the left, but his crosses rarely found an England head. Again, nil defending duties.
8 Theo Walcott Excellent first 25 minutes, troubling Andorra with pace and control. Got to the byline repeatedly but his final ball was not the best. As the game developed Andorra began a campaign of obstruction, mostly unpunished.
6 Gareth Barry Central midfielder put in a dependable, unfussy 90 minutes, but a little more pace and inspiration was required against the nine-man Andorran defence.
6 Frank Lampard Worked hard to prise open the massed ranks of blue, but never found the right ball or, in the absence of Steve Gerrard, fashioned a chance for himself.
4 Stewart Downing Not threatening, the Middlesbrough left-winger's crossing in the first half was particularly poor. No surprise when he was substituted at the break.
6 Wayne Rooney Struggled to find space in the first period but looked better in the second, when Heskey was his partner. The measured pass for England's second goal was his best moment.
5 Jermaine Defoe His only previous competitive international goal had come against Andorra. A second never looked likely. Substituted at the break.
8 Joe Cole On for Downing at half-time and scored with his first touch, confidently thumping in Lescott's lay-off from Lampard's free-kick. Made a clever run and deft finish for the second, but then strayed offside to deny Johnson a goal and himself a hat-trick.
6 Emile Heskey On for Defoe to give England's attack the height it needed if the tactic of high crosses was to be continued. Inevitably it was not, and the big striker was left to find his own way into the match.
6 David Beckham Replaced Lampard for the final 10 minutes. Hit one testing free-kick and one fine cross-field pass to Cole.
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