England v Norway
3 Sep 2014 - 8:00 PM
Newly-appointed captain Wayne Rooney made it a night to remember as he scored England’s only goal in a 1-0 win over Norway.
The Manchester United striker tucked away a 68th minute penalty to narrowly edge a game they’ll feel they could, and perhaps should, have won by a clearer margin.
Nonetheless, the match signalled the start of a new campaign as the Three Lions look ahead to their opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland next week and put the World Cup behind them.
Roy Hodgson named his side the day before, opting for a 4-4-2 formation to allow Rooney to play alongside Daniel Sturridge, while Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson partnered in central midfield.
Everton youngster John Stones was also handed his first start in a team with an average age of just 24 - Leighton Baines was the oldest at 29. Meanwhile newcomers to the squad Calum Chambers, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose waited in the wings for their first opportunity at senior level.
Norway were in a similar position to England, having seen their leader Brede Hangeland announce his international retirement like Steven Gerrard.
Six of their starting line-up feature for the Norwegian Under-21s side that reached last year’s European Championship semi-final, helping knock England out along the way.
However, unlike that night in Israel, the Three Lions were keen to get on the front foot - wide men Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling looking lively - but it took 15 minutes to carve out their first real chance.
Wilshere clipped a beautifully weight ball over the defence into the path of Arsenal team-mate Chamberlain surging into the box. His first touch was good, but Martin Linnes was close enough to hook away for a corner.
Hodgson’s men continued to play much of the game in Norwegian territory, but they remained resolute, closing down space and making it hard for the home side. Wilshere was pulling the strings in midfield, threading passes through tight gaps and his first touch was like a cushion of eider.
However, it was Sterling who created their next opening – a raking pass in behind the Norway back-line which found Sturridge in space. Controlling well, the Liverpool striker lifted the ball over the head of the onrushing keeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland, but it dropped agonisingly onto the roof of the net.
Baines also had decent chance as he steamed through into the box, collecting a pass from Sterling and driving goalwards, but again a visiting leg deflected the danger.
Wilshere was left bemused five minutes before the break when he drifted into the box and ended up sprawled out on the floor by Havard Nordtveit’s clumsy lunge. But Portuguese referee Jorge Sousa was not interested and waved play on.
At the start of the second half, Norway found a new lease of life and enjoyed a period of pressure that almost resulted in a goal, but for Joe Hart’s fine save. Ruben Yttergard Jenssen delivered in a corner from the left which was met by the head of Blackburn Rovers forward Joshua King eight yards out. Hart reacted well to push away to safety, though Baines was also covering on the back post.
Hart again denied former Manchester United man King after the Norwegian attacked down Stones’ right hand side and opened up space for the shot, but it was routine for the keeper.
The Three Lions, on the other hand, weren’t as fluid as in the first but finally made the breakthrough with 22 minutes left.
It was sparked by the footwork of Sterling inside the box on the left. The 19-year-old tricked his way past Omar Elabdellaoui and the Olympiacos defender could do nothing but stretch out in hope of taking the ball. But his hopes were dashed when Sterling hit the deck and the referee this time went England’s way.
Rooney made no mistake, dispatching his penalty expertly inside the post before making way for his former Old Trafford team-mate Danny Welbeck to enter the fray from the bench. James Milner also came on, while Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph was handed his England debut.
Welbeck, who less than 48 hour earlier has secured a move to Arsenal, was quickly into the action, turning on the edge of the area before firing powerfully goalwards. Nyland could only beat away.
The changes re-invigorated England and the energy of Delph, in particular, helped carve out another opening for Jordan Henderson, which the Liverpool midfielder sent over the bar.
Calum Chambers brought the average age down further – if only slightly – as the 19-year-old Gunner replaced 20-year-old Stones at right back.
As Norway looked to get back into the game, an England counter-attack sent man of the match Sterling away into the opposition’s half and he squared for Milner arrive on the edge of the penalty area. But the defence scrambled back to block the midfielder’s effort.
Had it not have been for the graft of Norway’s rear-guard, it could have been a far more comfortable result for Hodgson’s team. But their performance and victory will certainly provide them with confidence ahead of Monday’s trip to Basel.