Pete Sturgess' men miss qualification, but celebrate 3-2 victory.
England 0-4 Georgia & Estonia 2-3 England
UEFA Futsal Euro 2012
Preliminary Qualifying Round
22 & 24 January 2011
Click here for results
By Simon Walker in Skopje
England concluded their European Futsal Championship qualifying quest with a morale raising victory against a spirited Estonia side. Although any victory at this level is satisfying for this developing England team, unfortunately in the context of qualification it had no bearing on England’s chances of qualifying: with the team already being knocked out of the competition.
After a promising performance against Macedonia in the first game, where the English players were extremely unlucky not to get a positive result, eventually succumbing to a 3-1 defeat; this was followed by a more disappointing performance in the second game against a strong Georgian team who demonstrated the ruthlessness in front of goal that England need to acquire before they can compete and win at the next tier of international Futsal. A 4-0 defeat by Georgia shattered English dreams of qualifying to the main round of the European Championships, leaving England to contest for the ‘wooden spoon’ with Estonia in the final game of the tournament.
Georgia are a well-organised, technical team with some classy players, and the squad rightly sit significantly higher in the FIFA World Rankings than England (35 places higher). However, the Georgians recognised the English threat following the strong performance against Macedonia in the first game, and subsequently adopted a cautious, tactical approach to nullify England’s game plan.
However, England dominated the early exchanges wasting some important chances, and it was from one of these chances that Georgia sprung a lightning counter attack to seize the lead. However, England remained in the game at 1-0 until half-way through the second period, and had a number of chances to get back into the match. Unfortunately, the England players became frustrated and impatient, and the last quarter of the game was characterised by frenzied English passion to force the game and snatch a goal to get back into the match. This played into Georgia’s hands.
Following wave after wave of English attacks, Georgia sprang more effective, penetrative and destructive counter-attacks that tore England apart, capitalising on the numbers of players England committed to going forward. Georgia demonstrated the power of clinical finishing; with three late goals laying to waste England’s ambition’s of qualification and demonstrating the next level of development that the English players need to aspire too.
Pete Sturgess’ men were understandably rather flat for the third and final game against Estonia, but there was an underlying confidence in the squad that they could end the tournament on a positive note with a convincing win against the Estonians. England started positively, although not playing as slickly as they can, they still bossed the first half with Estonia placed under constant pressure and camped in their own half. Rob Ursell, Thomas Obasi, Luke Ballinger, Nick Colley and ??? Morgan all had decent chances to break the deadlock and give England the lead; indeed England should have had the game wrapped up within the first five minutes considering the golden chances that the team missed.
Alas, England were to rue their profligacy in front of goal with Estonia scoring twice before half-time to give them a 2-0 lead completely against the run of play. Estonia had obviously taken a leaf out of Georgia’s book, noting that quick counter-attacks from the breakdown of the lusty English attacks could unsettle the England team. Both Estonia’s goals came from sharp counter-attacking play with England slow to track back and scramble a solid defensive unit.
It looked like England were dead-and-buried, on the verge of another defeat, but the English players returned for the second half keen to restore some pride and show their character. But the early exchanges of the second half followed a similar pattern to the first period: England dominating the game, but being thwarted by excellent defending and some strong goalkeeping. England looked demoralised and were running out of time, until Ursell managed to bundle the ball into the back of the net after 31 minutes. The spectators could visibly see the belief surging back into the England squad as they sought the equaliser.
In an attempt to thwart England’s attacks, Estonia had racked up five accumulated team fouls meaning any fouls they committed in the final ten minutes would result in a long penalty for England. And almost immediately after Ursell’s goal, England earned such an opportunity. Captain Ballinger stepped up only to see the goalkeeper save. But moments later, Ballinger put his disappointment behind him and proved why he has scored more international goals for England than any other Futsal player. A training ground move saw Ursell float a corner to the edge of the area, where some clever movement from Ballinger had created some space to take the ball down on his chest and rifle a ferocious volley into the top corner to draw England level.
Estonia were in disarray and continued to lunge dangerously into tackles; the fast feet and skills of Obasi and Ursell tormented the Estonians. And yet another foul on Ursell resulted in Ballinger getting another opportunity to rectify his earlier miss from the spot. This time he made no mistake and slotted the ball into the top corner to leave the goalkeeper with no chance. In the space of three captivating minutes, England had scored three times to turn the game around and take the lead.
The last seven minutes of the game saw England become tense and nervous, with Estonia pressing and pushing for a late goal. This sense of pressure that enveloped England in these last minutes was not helped by Ballinger missing two further long penalties that would have sealed the game and given the scoreline a truer reflection of the English dominance. England eventually held on to win the game 3-2.
This was an important win to give the England squad further confidence and to confirm the advancements England have made in recent years on the international scene, and was the minimum that England had hoped for from this qualifying competition. It is worth remembering that this is only England’s second ever win in an official international Futsal competition. Although disappointed not to qualify from one of the tougher qualifying groups, the level of performance against the Macedonians bodes well for further improvements from this squad of young players.