Roy Hodgson kicked off his England career with an unspectacular 1-0 win against Norway courtesy of an Ashley Young goal in the 9th minute. This match, despite the win, was hard earned. Against an average Norway side, England looked a little sloppy in play, and were behind the ball for a lot of the game. Despite being sloppy in possession they did look to counter, and there were moments of some good football.
Ashley Young, scoring his fifth goal in six International games, looked lively and scored from a counter attack in the 9th minute of play. Going down the left he went past Hangeland before drilling a left foot shot across the goalkeeper into the bottom of the the net, to seal a clinical England counter attack. With Steven Gerrard pulling the strings in midfield, England produced some good periods of possession and could of been two up had an Andy Carrol pass not been over hit on route to Ashley Young - they linked up, and despite some anxious moments looked in the driving seat.
Gerrard was replaced at half time by Gareth Barry and, from then on, despite a couple of moments, Norway largely took control of the match. England were sloppy in possession, especially the young Utd defender Phil Jones. On more than one occasion he gave away possession needlessly - but he was not alone. England barely kept any period of possession in the second half, and with Parker off for Walcott in the 56th minute looked to inject some urgency into their play.
With Walcott coming on, Milner was pushed into the centre alongside his Manchester City colleague Gareth Barry. and suddenly England looked short of creative ideas. Despite Chamberlain, and Adam Johnson joining the party late on, the lack of creativity meant England did not create much in the second half - and leaves alot of room for improvement. With the likes of Carrick, Wilshire, Cleverly, even Scholes not in the squad, if England have an injury to Gerrard or Lampard it could be difficult. Despite Barry, Milner & Parker all capable of playing in the centre, none are as good a play makers as Gerrard or Lampard.
The likes of Jones, Carrol, Downing, and Milner will have some sharpening up to do if they are to get a place in the starting 11. Despite his potential, and ability to play in a range of roles, Phil Jones definitely needs to sharpen his game. The Manchester Utd youngster is sure to play for England for years to come, but he needs to work on his concentration levels for ninety minutes, especially when retaining possession.
Downing had an average game, but with his left foot adding a natural width to Englands game, and glimpses of his crossing ability he looks to be one of the ones in the 11. Andy Carrol did well in the air, and he does lead the line well, but was largely quiet on the attacking front. He did put in a good shift for his side, and with likes of Welbeck & Defoe looking for a chance, can be fairly pleased. He will surely make way for Wayne Rooney when available, but if he can start the tournament well, it would probably lead to him playing alongside Rooney - potentially a good partnership.
Scott Parker was his usual energetic self. The Tottenham man made vital interceptions and blocks - but with his ankle in ice after coming off (perhaps as a precaution) he could be touch and go. He provides everything you would expect for a defensive midfielder, and provides the defence with reliable cover.
Another mention goes to Leighton Baines who got through his game well (despite a brief penalty appeal from Norway), and will make a very good back up to the World Class Ashley Cole. Even showing us what he is capable with a viciously struck free kick, Baines could offer another threat for England. It would be interesting to see if Hodgson would try pushing him up in Downing's position. He is quick, defends well, a threat from set pieces, and can put a good cross in. Baines has all the potential to play on the left.
Despite being a friendly - after 3 training sessions - England did get the win however and showed some glimpses of their quality. Sure to work on holding the ball better, and getting the players match sharp, Hodgson will want a better performance next time out. He has seen what several players can do now, and with more friendlies to come will look to build momentum ahead of the tournament. Better teams than Norway will pounce on sloppy passes.
England's line up for the first game will in all likeliness be a lot different. Chelsea trio, and newly crowned European Champions, Terry, Lampard & Cahill will join the squad - all three sure to be in the starting 11 - and Rooney will join the fray after his suspension ends. Hart will be in goal, despite Green starting tonight.
For the first time in years England have gone into a tournament - probably pressure free - and the team might just benefit from that. Despite a rather timid start for Hodgson, there were some signs of the football the team will play - and hopefully that will give us a chance.
A win is a win, [and a first in Norway since '66] and if they build on it who knows. Our teams tend to play with the entire nations eyes on their backs, but as long as they play for the shirt, and give 110%, then we have no reason to be scared.
We may be a little down in terms of tournament performance over recent years, but our players could just surprise us. We have pace, we have goalscorers, and we have some fresh blood. We may not win, it but hopefully we will give a good account of English football. Chelsea somehow won in Europe against the odds, how about England? Maybe not, but being an England fan, you always dream!