Football: Venables needs greater versatility: New coach's brave start stymied by the kind of primitive game he is trying to avoid as England's Christmas tree fails to light up

Joe Lovejoy
Sunday 22 May 1994 23:02

England. . .0

Norway . . .0

NORWAY, the self-styled Wimbledon of international football, aped the original to perfection yesterday, pooping England's end-of-term party and depriving Terry Venables of his 100 per cent record with the sort of rugged resilience which will make them a team to avoid at the World Cup. In every sense.

Egil Olsen, their Anglophile manager, is an arch apostle of what is euphemistically called 'direct' football, and the prospect of Norway and the Republic of Ireland long-balling each other into stalemate should do wonders for the American game. Baseball, that is.

Olsen, who mischievously advised Venables to follow the stratospheric route (perish the thought), is utterly immune to criticism of the Norwegians' style. Difficult to play against? Good. Difficult to watch? Tough. The end justified the means, and it was Norway who were spending the summer in the United States.

In fairness, England were the home team, and the onus was on Venables and his players to find the way, and the will, to overcome their dogged, dour opponents. These are early days for the new regime, of course and, barely into the familiarisation process, they were not quite good enough.

If the new coach was disappointed, he did not show it. Two wins and a draw from his first three matches was a good start, he said. He would have settled for that in February, when he first set about sifting through the wreckage of the Graham Taylor legacy.

Venables would spend the summer watching the World Cup, in his capacity as a TV analyst, and expected to return with mind and appetite stimulated, re-armed with new ideas. One or two more are likely to be needed. His opening gambit, the formation he calls his Christmas tree, accounted for Denmark and Greece, but was too easily stymied by Norway's muscular efficiency.

England enjoyed the lion's share of possession, but were unable to get men forward quickly enough, or in sufficient numbers, to avoid having Alan Shearer isolated, and picked off, as the lone striker at the sharp end of the

4-3-2-1 'tree'.

Defensively, the news was good, David Seaman enjoying a trouble-free afternoon. There was never any likelihood of Venables falling into the trap that ensnared Taylor in Oslo and, instead of changing the basic framework of the team, England dealt with Scandinavian Rambo, aka Jostein Flo, by detailing Steve Bould to match him header for header, charge for charge.

Their routine outlet rendered unproductive, Norway were restricted to just one goal attempt of any consequence, Seaman parrying Orjan Berg's strong shot. Full marks, then, to Bould and Tony Adams, but then to these two the up-and-under will always be meat and drink.

Further forward, it was B minus, at best, with thoughts turning to you-know-who for the first time under the new administration. Only Paul Gascoigne among contemporary English midfield players possesses the technique needed to escape the diligent close marking which is the Norwegian stock in trade.

Platt is unimaginative by comparison and Peter Beardsley was neither fish nor fowl - caught in midfield when Shearer needed him in the penalty area and passed too readily when it was all going on around him in the deep. He is hardly a midfielder, of course, but there was a strong case for the inclusion of Matthew Le Tissier from the start.

The compartmentalisation of the team, and their four different components, was soon evident, with Platt releasing Shearer with a lovely through-pass which had the striker pulling out wide to the right in preparation for a cross. Unfortunately, when he looked up, there was no white shirt anywhere near the penalty area and an optimum position went to waste.

It was to happen more than once, most notably after 75 minutes, when the lone ranger, finding himself surrounded, with no help in sight, managed to win a dubious free-kick off Alf Inge Haland.

An unpromising situation seemed to have been transformed into a match-winning one when Shearer took the kick and sent Erik Thorstvedt plunging to his right to turn the ball against the post. Platt's predatory instincts got him to the rebound first, but the referee curtailed England's celebrations, ordering the kick to be retaken because he was busy ordering the Norwegian defenders not to advance too early from the wall. Advantage? Whoops.

It was the best of a meagre quota of chances. Jan Age Fjortoft, of Swindon Town, should have done better when he fastened on to a rebound from Bould's chest and made a hash of his attempt to chip as Seaman bore down on him to meet the danger.

For England, Paul Ince loosed off a couple of salvoes from distance, and Platt demanded a decent save with a skimming volley from just inside the penalty area.

That was about it. Thorstvedt was much the busier goalkeeper, but swallowed everything without inconvenience, England making the man from Tottenham look like a latter-day Pat Jennings with a series of thank-you-very-much crosses and harmless shots.

As farewell parties go, it was the soggiest of damp squibs, but the Norwegians were wearing the broadest smiles when it all broke up last night. They are off to Orlando, of course - and not for their holidays.

ENGLAND (4-3-2-1): Seaman (Arsenal); Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Bould (Arsenal), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers); Anderton (Tottenham Hotspur), Ince (Manchester United), Wise (Chelsea); Platt (Sampdoria), Beardsley (Newcastle United); Shearer (Blackburn Rovers). Substitutes: Le Tissier (Southampton) for Anderton, 76; Wright (Arsenal) for Ince, 76.

NORWAY (4-5-1): Thorstvedt (Tottenham); H Berg (Blackburn), E Johnsen (Chelsea), Bratseth (Werder Bremen), Nilsen (Sheffield United); Flo (Sheffield United), O Berg (Basle), Rekdal (Lierse), Bohinen (Nottingham Forest), Jakobsen (Lierse); Fjortoft (Swindon Town). Substitutes: Haland (Nottingham Forest) for Nilsen, h-t; Sorloth (Bursaspor) for Fjortoft, h-t; Ingebrigtsen (Manchester City) for O Berg, 66; By Rise (Rosenborg Trondheim) for Thorstvedt, 86.

Referee: K Nielsen (Denmark).

Football, page 28

(Photograph omitted)

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments