Andorra make case for pre-qualifying

Mockery of a contest with a country that could not even secure the release of its professionals will surely force Uefa's hand
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The Independent Football

There was an Ayala, a Garcia and a Vieira among the visitors. If only they had been the authentic items we may have had a game from the boys from the Pyrenean principality. But these weren't mountain hounds; Andorra, for all Steve McClaren's dire warnings about their aggression, were more to be discovered collapsed, theatrically, in a heap or licking their own wounds.

As it was, Peter Crouch's opener, after only five minutes, as England strove to win the battle of the home nation bullies and outdo Scotland's rampaging start against the Faroe Islands, was the signal for Andorra's resistance to crumble. Their unfortunate goalkeeper bears the name Jesus Luis Alvarez. By the end, that was Jesus, followed by an exclamation mark.

By the final whistle, one hitherto blown far too frequently to halt play after some dubious histrionics by Andorra, crudely designed to interrupt the flow of McClaren's team, the visitors had maintained some damage limitation which restricted the scoreline to a level the coach David Rodrigo would probably have considered acceptable.

The faithful here raised and saluted England, and acclaimed the first three points in England's Group E pot. It is one which will be brimming over by the time no fewer than 12 qualifying games have been contested. After this affront to our sensibilities, a period of sustained silence to express contempt for the fact that such a fixture came to be sanctioned by Uefa would have been more appropriate.

It is barely conceivable that the Premiership and Championship was cancelled for this, and that a friendly had been organised against Greece immediately prior to the League season to prepare for it.

The population of the Pyrenean country is only slightly more than those who occupied this far-from-capacity stadium yesterday, and considerably less than half of those hold Andorran passports. Already at what one could submit was a fairly profound disadvantage, the visitors' best players, the country's only two professionals, couldn't make it, either. One, Ildefons Lima, their leading scorer - four goals in 44 games, the last four years ago - is banned for spitting at an opponent. The other, Marc Bernaus, scorer of the goal in Andorra's only win, is under contract to a Spanish second division side, who astonishingly decree that their games have priority over internationals.

So, for England, it was only marginally more exacting than that game involving Scotland in Estonia when the visitors kicked off, with no opposition, and were rewarded with a 3-0 victory. McClaren already has a head full of his buzzwords; he had spoken beforehand about "respect" for the opposition, just about avoided the "no-easy-games" mantra, had demanded "relaxed professionalism" and asked for "patience". There were also pointed reminders about a certain FA Cup tie involving Middlesbrough and Nuneaton Borough at the start of the year, when he had been but a humble club manager, who had narrowly escaped considerable embarrassment.

Yet, that Middlesbrough side cannot compare with the England he has inherited and, in truth, Andorra would have struggled against Nuneaton. There was little, from an England perspective, that could be gleaned from the performance. McClaren observed that "we felt that they couldn't handle crosses, and that became evident". True. If you were stretched on the rack and, on pain of death, had to nominate a player who impressed in such circumstances, then you'd nominate Steven Gerrard.

Owen Hargreaves also seized the opportunity to impress that the midfield holding role is nobody's but his by tackling with a venom that suggested he was still playing Portugal back in June. He was a contributor to both early goals and then, deciding that the No 7 shirt entitled him to mimic David Beckham, curled a free-kick against a post. Meanwhile Gerrard gave the impression that he was determined that there should definitely be no way back for the Real Madrid man and former England captain by dispatching a sublime cross which brought a fine execution from Jermain Defoe for England's third.

But beyond that, it was a case of England's attempts at fluidity being thwarted by their opponents' amateur dramatics which evoked too many unpalatable memories of the World Cup. Uefa argue that smaller countries will never improve unless they compete against the nations which form the power base of European football. Andorra will never improve. Franz Beckenbauer is not alone in contending that there should be pre-qualifying, and if there is anything to emerge from yesterday, other than that England should have warmed up with a decent run-out for Wednesday's more daunting match in Macedonia, it is that European football's governing body may finally receive the message, and act.

Pre-qualifying, in which the best of the minor footballing teams, like Andorra or the Faroe Islands, would have the opportunity of progressing through to this stage, is such an obvious solution to the issue. Perhaps too transparent for the Uefa suits?

Some will contend that the Faroes have actually held Scotland to a draw, but that confirmed the paucity of the old enemy at that time, and their complacency. It doesn't represent sound reasoning for the continued staging of mismatches such as this.


Star performer

Steven Gerrard (4) 8

Ruled the right wing with energy and strength in the first half when he scored a fine goal and made Defoe's first with a precise centre. Began to roam in the second and was always a threat with imaginative distribution.

Paul Robinson (1) 5

Had so little to do against wretched opposition one half-expected him to go upfield for England's corner kicks.

Phil Neville (2) 6

Had no defending to do so the right- back had ample opportunity to support Gerrard in attack. Set up Defoe's second with a firm forward header.

Wes Brown (5) 6

With zero threat from the Andorran striker, this was a practice match for England's defenders. Booked for a high tackle in the opposition's area.

John Terry (6) 6

Will never have a more comfortable 90 minutes. The new captain's first competitive fixture was unhurried, untroubled, unrepresentative.

Ashley Cole (3) 6

His partnership on the left with Downing is not yet as well-oiled as that with his namesake Joe, but was involved in the build-up to England's first goal.

Owen Hargreaves (7) 8

The Bayern midfielder was excellent again, neat in possession, tigerish in the tackle, and kept the side ticking over with simple passes. Unlucky not to score, hitting a post in each half.

Frank Lampard (8) 6

Considering the rich pickings a midfielder might expect to find against Andorra, had a quiet match. Delivery at set-pieces not up to usual standard.

Peter Crouch (9) 7

Scored early with crisp left-foot shot, settling England. Should have had a hat-trick, missing a good chance after scoring his 10th goal in nine games.

Stewart Downing (11) 6

Against the most accommodating opposition failed to prove he is a better option on the left than Joe Cole. Should have got to the byline more.

Jermain Defoe (10) 7

Left-foot snap shot wide of the target when well-placed, but soon found the target with two well-taken goals. His movement throughout was good.


Aaron Lennon (16) 7

On for Neville and set up Crouch's second goal with his first touches. Was the best of the substitutes.

Keiran Richardson (15) 6

Took Downing's berth on the left wing and performed adequately without catching the eye.

Andy Johnson (18) 6

Replaced Defoe and was presented with an immediate chance on the six-yard line. Looked lively.

Geoff Brown