England 5 Andorra 0: Defoe and Crouch help themselves in Andorra's box

England enjoy easiest of openers to the campaign as McClaren's strikers thrive on service from flanks against mountain minnows
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The Independent Online

The mountain range ranked 132nd in world football, whose national sport is skiing, found it all uphill going as England began their European Championship campaign with a victory every bit as one-sided as expected. Odds of 80-1 against Andorra were the longest in memory for any fixture and the part-timers, missing their only two professional players, were at no time in danger of embarrassing either the bookmakers or Steve McClaren in his first competitive match in charge.

England might well have been disappointed not to have matched the six goals achieved twice under Sven Goran Eriksson, or even the seven in Graham Taylor's vain farewell against San Marino. But it was an illustration of the realities of the modern international game that they should be restricted to five by a team dedicated to packing their defence and avoiding utter humiliation.

"I've seen better pub teams," said a scornful Chris Waddle in the press box. Whether such sides should be allowed to play in these groups without some sort of pre-qualifying is a legitimate matter for debate.

England were not complaining, the absence of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen giving Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe the chance to improve their contrasting scoring records with two goals each. That gave Crouch a remarkable 10 in his last nine internationals and allowed Defoe to improve a surprisingly poor tally of one in his previous 17. Other than that pair, and the continually impressive Owen Hargreaves, wide players were the most prominent, with Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and later the substitute Aaron Lennon excelling. But Stewart Downing and Phil Neville were less consistent in their passing and crossing.

Not that England were ever likely to be overworked by a side whose unashamed ambition on these occasions is to keep the score down. Only rarely, as in the 8-1 defeat by the Czech Republic in June last year, do they fail to do so. The moment that the captain Justo Ruiz had kicked off he immediately retreated into a 5-4-1 formation that then became 5-5-0 as soon as England had possession - which was most of the time. Paul Robinson in goal had to implore his defenders for an occasional back-pass and was cheered for each of his few touches.

"They couldn't handle the crosses," McClaren said. "We had a job to do and the players handled it very well."

The key was to break down the flanks, though only after a defender or two had been drawn out of position, which was how four of the goals materialised. Five minutes had been played when Cole and Defoe worked the ball down the left to create a first chance for Crouch, who took it splendidly with a sweeping left-footed shot.

Within another minute, Defoe almost emulated him, pulling his effort wide, before Frank Lampard's deflected 25-yarder was held by the goalkeeper Koldo Alvarez and John Terry slashed a fierce shot just over the bar following a corner.

The second goal, in the 13th minute, showed the way through, albeit with the assistance of some hopelessly naive defending. Cole went on the overlap and his cross beyond the far post was misjudged by the little left-back Javier Sanchez, allowing Gerrard to bang a shot past Alvarez.

For 25 minutes thereafter the tempo dropped and England lapsed into casualness, drawing McClaren into his technical area to demonstrate displeasure - another welcome change from the Eriksson era. Twice players were caught offside by the Andorrans rushing out of their penalty area en masse. Hargreaves had the correct riposte, curling the next free-kick directly at goal, where it struck a post and the fortunate Alvarez in succession before bouncing to safety.

Reaching the interval without conceding again would have been a triumph for the visitors, but England deflated them and lifted a quiet home crowd seven minutes before that. Again the goal stemmed from the touchline, this time on the right side, Gerrard feinting one way and veering the other like an authentic winger, then delivering a perfect cross for Defoe, who had cleverly drifted between two defenders to volley in. "Are you watching, Eriksson?" the Tottenham Hotspur striker might have chorused to the head coach who never trusted him.

There was no great sign of the wild Andorran tackling that McClaren had warned against and it was an England player, Wes Brown, who collected the game's first yellow card for an unnecessary foul that could be costly later in the campaign. Marc Pujol was also left lying on the wet turf in some pain as England scored their fourth goal and had to be substituted immediately after Neville's header forward had sent Defoe wriggling through for his second, right at the start of the second half.

He would have completed a 20-minute hat-trick, meeting Cole's cross with an instinctive strike, but for a fine save by Alvarez. The goalkeeper was a mere spectator, however, as Hargreaves was once more denied his first international goal when he struck the inside of a post again with a 25-yard shot.

As Andorra persisted with one attacker at most, McClaren changed the system to one he could reasonably have started with, a 3-5-2. Kieran Richardson and Lennon came on for Downing and Neville, Lennon, with his first two touches, making the fifth goal. He sped away from Lima Sola and crossed perfectly on to Crouch's head for a firm header high into the net. Defoe lost any chance of his hat-trick when Andy Johnson was given a run-out in the last 20 minutes. The nippy Everton man set Crouch up for what should have been his third but he clipped the shot wide.

And so to Macedonia and a fixture on Wednesday that is coloured by Andorra having taken as many points off them in World Cup qualifying with a win and a draw, as England did in the last European Championship. "Macedonia will be totally different," McClaren said.

Mountains and molehills come to mind.

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