England defeat African Futsal Champions in Tripoli.
Libya 1-1 England
Friday 4 December 2009
Libya 1-2 England
Saturday 5 December 2009
International Futsal Friendlies
Tripoli Grand Hall Arena, Libya
The England Futsal team put in two superb performances against the African Futsal champions, Libya, in Tripoli.
England fought courageously and showed real character to dominate two friendly internationals against one of the leading Futsal nations in their own country.
Drawing the first game and winning the second, England exhibited two of their best –ever displays with the squad really delivering high-level performances when it really mattered.
Libya have a fine recent pedigree and are ranked 26th in the world, 70 places above England. As well as reigning African Futsal champions, Libya won the Arab Futsal Championships, with their star player Mohammed Omar selected to play against Brazil in a World All-Stars Team.
England travelled to Tripoli with the odds stacked against them. Libya defeated England last year in the only other previous meeting, while England had only recently won for the first time in their history away from home.
England began the first game cautiously, but confidence grew quickly and the England team settled into the game better than their illustrious opponents. England dictated the early rhythms of the match, with half-chances falling to Thomas Obasi and Luke Ballinger to establish an early lead.
But it was the home side who scored first, against the run of play. A speculative long-distance shot ricocheted into the path of a Libyan player to slot past Curtis Holmes in the England goal.
Libya began to exert more influence over the game after taking the lead, showing some of the hallmarks of a true Futsal force. England weathered the storm and regained their composure and dominated for a five minute spell before half-time.
Wave after wave of English attacks crashed against the Libyan goal, with the agile Libyan goalkeeper having an extraordinary game repelling every English effort. Colley, Obasi and Vallance all having good chances to level the score before half-time.
It took a thunderbolt from England’s captain, Luke Ballinger, to beat the Libyan keeper. Obasi’s effort rebounding back to Ballinger, who instantly crashed it into the top corner to stun the Libyan crowd. England continued to press, with Head Coach Pete Sturgess making effective changes to offer different attacking options.
However, the Libyan goalkeeper would not be beaten again, and at the end a sharp save from Holmes kept the scores level.
Although disappointed not to win, the England team were upbeat with the quality of their performance.
England started the second game with greater belief of securing a much desired victory, but were soon on the backfoot after a mistake by Dean Thornton, playing in goal for the second match, allowed Libya a simple goal inside two minutes.
England were rattled, and for a significant spell clung on desperately to prevent conceding a second. Libya sensed their opportunity and pushed and probed, but the steadying influence of Nick Colley helped England restore some shape and order to their play.
The creativity of Rob Ursell and Thomas Obasi began to come to the fore just before half-time, with a couple of half-chances giving the Lions some confidence going into the second half.
The England captain again led by example to restore the team to parity at the start of the second period. Ballinger capitalised on a Libyan mistake to go through on goal, with a smart finish to beat Libya’s talented goalkeeper.
Halfway through the second period Ben Mortlock sent the England squad into raptures after he finished a slick passing move.
Joy almost turned to despair as while England celebrated their lead, the Libyans took advantage to shoot at goal from the kick-off. Thornton was alive to the situation and tipped the ball over the bar. This signalled the start of a tense last period to the game, with both teams having a number of chances.
Thornton, Mortlock and Colley all stretched to prevent Libya equalising as Mohammed Omar began to exert his influence on the game.
England were also on five accumulated fouls for the final period, and with a minute to go the referee awarded a penalty to the home side as a result of a sixth foul. Mohammed Omar stepped up but hit the post to the disappointment of the home fans.
England withstood the pressure to see out the game and claim an important victory for English Futsal to the delight of the squad and coaching staff.
Under the guidance of Sturgess, the England squad has been in a period of intense development, and this win helps to show that the squad and Futsal in England is moving in the right direction.
There is still much development required, and expectation should be tempered with the realisation that this is one step on a long path.
But England Futsal will enjoy this win and the high quality of the performances in these two matches will provide much-needed confidence for the future.