Futsal team reflect on double-header in Cyprus.
Cyprus 3-0 England
Friday 5 February 2010:
Cyprus 3-1 England
Saturday 6 February 2010
Following recent English Futsal triumphs away from home in Libya, England suffered a reality-check with two defeats in Cyprus at the weekend.
Confidence and expectations in the England squad had been high in the build-up to these two Cypriot matches; outstanding performances in Tripoli against the African champions ranked 75 places ahead of England in the world rankings, and the 4-2 defeat of Cyprus last March in the UEFA Futsal Champions had buoyed the belief and optimism of the England players. However, this balloon of expectation was soon burst after a sub-standard performance by the England players in the first game led to a convincing victory for the Cypriots.
Cyprus should not be underestimated though; ranked 25 places above England, they played to their strengths and maintained a strong robust defence that England struggled to breakdown. A result of any kind for England against this efficient and consistent team would have represented a significant achievement. But the English players started the first game in the wonderful atmospheric Limassol Arena lacking intensity and drive: two key components that would be essential for England to achieve a memorable result.
The hosts adopted a defensive strategy allowing England to dominate possession but always looked dangerous when springing forward in rapid counter-attacks. England’s low intensity and their inability to break-down the organised Cypriot defence left them only with occasional long-distance shots and the bulk of the possession in non-threatening positions some distance from the Cyprus goal. Cyprus scored towards the end of the first half and then as England pushed forward in the second half, were struck twice on the counter attack. The 3-0 scoreline flattered Cyprus and probably did not reflect the flow of the game, but English mistakes were severely punished and England could have no complaints about the final outcome.
Although England’s display was less than impressive, the players showed character and determination in their refusal to dwell on this depressing performance. They picked themselves up and learnt from some of their failings, starting the second game in the outstanding new Nicosia University facility with greater energy and dynamism. The quality of the England play, particularly their passing, was vastly superior to that displayed the previous evening and far more reminiscent of that shown in Libya.
England attacked with greater verve and Cyprus struggled to match the pace set by the English. Some outstanding interplay between Byron Andrews and Thomas Obasi resulted in the perfect start, with Obasi skilfully steering the ball into the top-corner. England continued to threaten and play at a high-tempo, which was almost rewarded with a second goal moments later when Pete Vallance’s effort hit the post and rolled across the goal line, only to narrowly miss.
As the half wore on, similar to the first game, Cyprus threatened through quick and effective counter-attacks. On one such attack, a clever Cyprus move resulted in ripping the English defence apart leaving an open net to level the game. The Cyprus player struck the ball fiercely and it hit the arm of Haydn Eames, who was one of England’s most consistent players over the two games. The Cypriots capitalised from the penalty spot.
England were in disarray and struggled to re-organise following this set-back and Cyprus punished this lack of concentration almost immediately. England players failed to pick-up their men, leaving Cyprus with an overlap which they duly took advantage of to give them a 2-1 lead going into half-time.
England still looked at odds at the start of the second half: with uncharacteristic mistakes and an edginess to their performance. Fortunately this did not last, as the team settled into a more positive rhythm that penned Cyprus back into their half with England having the lion’s share of possession. Vallance particularly had an excellent game, continually threatening and probing the Cyprus defence. England created a number of good chances that they wasted, and this profligacy would cost them dear. England’s exciting pursuit of an equaliser was not helped by extremely poor refereeing, which eventually led to the accumulation of six fouls against England and thus with 90 seconds remaining provided Cyprus with a long-penalty that they despatched with consummate ease.
At 3-1, the score certainly did not reflect the pattern of the play. In this second game, England were the dominant force and a draw would have been greatly welcomed by the Cypriots. A defeat was certainly an unfortunate outcome for the English, but it did emphasise some key learning points that the England players need to take onboard quickly: namely the need to maintain their concentration and composure throughout the entire game and the need to exploit their chances when they are presented. Also if the English players needed any reminding, it also demonstrated the ruthless and harsh realities of international Futsal – top level opponents will severely punish any mistakes. The hope is that the England squad can rebound from these two games and get back to winning ways for the home Four Nations Futsal Tournament at Easter, where they take on Malta, Finland and Turkey in Hereford.