Referee must curb Andorran aggression, says McClaren

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The Independent Online

Beware Andorra was Steve McClaren's unlikely warning yesterday but what he really meant about this country of just 67,000 souls was the tendency of the side that England face today to employ a rough-and-ready style in order to antagonise and upset their more celebrated opponents.

"In all the tapes that I've watched, Andorra have been very aggressive in their tackling," he said. "They are not afraid to upset opponents." Although nothing McClaren can say will prevent an Old Trafford crowd that could out-number the entire Andorran population turning up today in expectation of a massacre and potentially the most one-sided game in England's recent history.

That of course is always the expectation for England and rarely the reality but the point McClaren was keenest to put over was directed at the Austrian referee Bernhard Brugger whom he called upon to protect his team from Andorra's strategy of intimidation. Some may find it scarcely credible that England need protecting against an Andorra team of part-timers who are missing their two best players, but no-one could accuse McClaren of not taking this international turkey-shoot seriously.

"They get 11 players behind the ball, defend deep, are very organised, very disciplined, hard to break down, and very aggressive in their style," McClaren said. "What I'm going to stress to the players is that we must keep control and not get antagonised.

"In the Netherlands game against Andorra, [Philip] Cocu got sent off. In the Romania game [against Andorra] there were quite a few incidents where players came together. What I'm looking for is a strong referee. We talk about treating Andorra with respect and looking at this game like we are playing Brazil. I think referees have to do that at international level.

"They are refereeing a game between a smaller team and a bigger team but they have to treat it the same. They [Andorra] are very aggressive in their tackling. They have to be. They put themselves about. They are not easily beaten. They give free-kicks away. We just need to be wary that we stay in control and are calm, collected and finish with 11 players on the park."

At the very least, you have to credit McClaren with having done his research. His predecessor Sven Goran Eriksson tended to refer vaguely to opposition players by their numbers rather than names. McClaren has seen the Andorra match videos and the less polite conclusion to his findings could be summarised thus: hopeless footballers, reckless tacklers.

Warning referees that they need to be on their guard is a classic Sir Alex Ferguson tactic, although he tends to use it before matches of far greater importance than against a Pyrenean principality of only 22,300 nationals. But after destroying a hopeless Greece side last month, and with Macedonia on Wednesday, McClaren can hardly feel that he has been faced with the toughest challenges of international management just yet.

After Croatia on 11 October, he will have the chance to test his mettle against Marco van Basten in the Netherlands friendly on 15 November, and Guus Hiddink's Russia await next September. But until then, McClaren's England have played their three opening fixtures against the softest set of opponents.

McClaren admitted as much yesterday. "We have a lot of proving to do that we are a good team," he said. "You only get that through consistent performances and results. Greece doesn't prove that." And will Andorra? "Absolutely not. It's one of the key tests for any great team that they beat the teams they should beat."

He cited Manchester United's draw with Burton Albion and Middlesbrough's draw with Nuneaton Borough in last year's FA Cup third round as examples of how badly football matches can go wrong for the favourites. As far as embarrassing results go, in the last year of McClaren's Middlesbrough career, the 7-0 defeat to Arsenal one week after Nuneaton was a lot worse.

There will be no Rio Ferdinand or Gary Neville today although their replacements Phil Neville and Wes Brown are not likely to find this the greatest examination of their England credentials. McClaren also expressed relief yesterday that Ashley Cole's tedious negotiations to join Chelsea were finally complete.

"Chelsea have recruited a very good left back, he plays for England and he plays next to John Terry, so it's a big advantage for us," he said. "I could feel for every manager up until midnight. I've had many experiences of that. It [Cole playing alongside Terry] is advantageous. When they are playing in their clubs and they are playing regularly and forming partnerships, when they then come together with England then that's an advantage to me, to the team and to England."

Otherwise England are unchanged from the team that beat Greece and the word from the camp is that the players are comfortable under the new regime. The absence of David Beckham has given others room to breathe. Whether the problem of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard's compatibility will ever be solved remains to be seen but neither of them any longer fear the private chat at training to inform them that they are being asked to adapt to another position.

"I'll settle for a performance," McClaren said, "as long as everyone goes home having enjoyed the performance". Later he added, as if it needed saying, "We have to win the game."

This November will be the 13th anniversary of Davide Gaultieri's goal from the kick-off for San Marino in Bologna in the final 1994 World Cup qualifier of that miserable, failed campaign. The smallest teams have a habit of causing problems, even Azerbaijan in the last qualification campaign were only dispatched 2-0 at home. As ever it will be the expectation, rather than the opposition, that is England's greatest enemy.

Scoring for fun England's records

* ENGLAND'S BIGGEST FRIENDLY WINS

13-0 v Ireland (Belfast, 1882)

13-2 v Ireland (Sunderland, 1899)

11-1 v Austria (Vienna, 1908)

10-0 v Portugal (Lisbon, 1947)

10-0 v USA (New York, 1964)

* ENGLAND'S BIGGEST COMPETITIVE VICTORIES

9-0 v Luxembourg (Luxembourg, 1960, WCQ); v Luxembourg (Wembley, 1982, ECQ)

8-0 v Turkey (Istanbul, 1984 WCQ); v Turkey (Wembley, 1987 ECQ)

9-2 v N Ireland (Manchester, 1949, WCQ)

7-1 v San Marino (Bologna, 1993, WCQ)

6-0 v San Marino (Wembley, 1992, WCQ); v Luxembourg (Wembley, 1989, ECQ)

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