Two games with two very different outcomes for the England Futsal team.
England v Greece (1-1 & 1-6)
Futsal International Friendly Matches
The English Institute for Sport, Sheffield
24-25 June 2011
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By Simon Walker
The England Futsal team had mixed fortunes in their two friendly matches over the weekend against a strong Greece team. Greece, ranked 31 places above England in the FIFA Futsal World Rankings, always looked like they would be a strong proposition for the England squad to tackle, but in recent times the Three Lions team have continued to make impressive strides against nations ranked significantly higher.
In May, England beat an excellent Montenegro team in Hereford, and the Montenegrins have a similar ranking to Greece. The squad therefore went into this double-header with the Greeks full-of-confidence.
And this confidence didn’t appear misplaced in the first game on the Friday night. The two nations were evenly matched in a tactical battle where both countries had periods of domination. England had the lion’s share of the first half and started very brightly. England dominated possession, with the Greeks happy to adopt a more defensive mentality. This almost cost Greece with England having some outstanding chances to put the game out of their reach in the first 15 minutes. Sam Murphy and Byron Andrew were in excellent form for England during the first half with Andrew having two good opportunities to give England the lead, and this was followed by captain Luke Ballinger having a half-chance that on another day might have opened the scoring.
The England passing and movement was sharp and crisp and the team continued to look threatening, until a minute from half-time when the Greeks exploded on the counter-attack. England were slow to scramble their defence and Mourdoukoutas made sure the English were punished with an emphatic finish. The Greeks took a 1-0 lead into half-time completely against the run-of-play.
But the second half saw an almost complete role-reversal, with Greece beginning to dominate possession, pressing higher up the pitch and putting significant pressure on England’s defensive capabilities. However, England were resilient and demonstrated outstanding fluidity and strength in their defensive duties and although Greece pushed and probed, England looked secure. Similar to the Greek goal, England capitalised through a rapid counter attack with Jason Kilbride notching an excellent goal to bring the scores level. The game finished 1-1, and was a fair reflection of the flow of the match. England played some outstanding Futsal, and this scoreline should be considered a remarkable feat against a team placed so much higher in the world rankings.
England went into the second game upbeat, looking to further their credentials with another solid performance. England certainly have made some big strides forward in the last two years on the international Futsal circuit and deserved their draw in the first game, but this second game certainly brought all involved with the England Futsal team back to earth with a resounding bump. A 6-1 drubbing by the Greeks quickly wiped out the positive feelings from the night before, and demonstrated that there is still quite some way to go for this England team to consider themselves as a mid-tier Futsal nation.
From the start of the match to the end, the England team were a shambles and the squad will feel this disappointment even more bitterly as they will know that this heavy defeat was mainly of their own making. Greece were certainly brighter, sharper and more positive than they had been in the first game, but England systematically failed to do the basics correctly.
England’s rapid development in recent years has been based around every player doing the fundamental elements of Futsal to a consistently high level, and using this as a foundation to build upon. England’s defence was disorganised and often chaotic, their passing was sloppy and inaccurate, the movement and rotation of the team was almost non-existent and in general the players looked off-the-pace. At least four of the Greek goals were a result of poor English defending, that in recent times the England team would have felt confident of preventing.
It was a bad day at the office for all of the England players, and it is important that these players put this defeat behind them quickly. Although it is important to analyse the mistakes and ensure that they don’t happen in future, the level of performance was so far beneath the England team’s normal standards that dwelling overly on this result could be counter-productive for the team. What this game does highlight, is that at this standard if England fail to perform at their optimum level other national teams will firmly punish them.
England now have the FIFA World Cup qualifiers to concentrate upon in October, and it is important that the English players recall their recent strong performances against Turkey, Andorra, Montenegro, as well as this first Greece game. If the squad performs anything like they did in these games they will be tough to beat in these important qualifiers.