England's Futsal squad had a win, a draw and a defeat to show from games in Malta
Malta 0-2 England
Greece 3-0 England
Georgia 2-2 England
Malta Futsal Four Nations Mini-Tournament
6-9 January 2013
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England had a challenging work-out in a Four Nations Mini-Tournament in Malta prior to the upcoming UEFA European Qualifiers at the end of the month.
Peter Sturgess’ squad head to Lithuania at the end of January to take on Cyprus and Lithuania for the opportunity to progress to the Main Round of the competition: territory that the England team have never progressed to before.
So the tournament in Malta was an important and useful training exercise to prepare Pete Sturgess’ squad against some tough opponents.
England took on the home nation first and went into the game against Malta as favourites, starting brightly and creating a number of good early chances.
It was no surprise to see England take the lead after only two minutes with Guillermo Wallace scoring his first goal for the team from close range.
Whilst England dominated the game, their performance was a little lacklustre and this was reflected by only one further goal in the 14th minute following some good work by Alex Campana to allow Ian Parkes to score.
England never looked in much danger of losing to Malta, but failed to take the glutton of goal-scoring chances that the team did well to manufacture. A further downside was the unfortunate fractured wrist that vice captain Nick Colley picked up that ruled him out for the remainder of the tournament.
Their failure to take chances cost England dear in the second game against a strong Greece team. Greece, who went on to win the mini-tournament, were a well organised defensive team who continuously looked dangerous and threatening on the counter attack.
However, England raised their performances levels and in the first half were playing the better Futsal. The movement and passing from England were posing numerous questions to the Greek defence, and on a number of occasions the clever inter-play from the English players carved out half-chances that failed to be converted.
Greece took a 1-0 lead into half-time against the run of play after some momentarily sloppy defending by England from a corner that allowed a shot from distance to creep past Curtis Holmes.
The Greeks stepped up their game in the second half and it became a really closely fought contest, with both teams having their periods of ascendancy.
Sturgess’ men applied themselves with both skill and heart, but just couldn’t snatch that all important goal, spurning a number of chances with the ball creeping the wrong side of the post or the excellent Achis Christos making inspiring save after save.
And disappointingly for England they gifted Apostolos an easy tap-in from close range after 29 minutes following more poor defensive play at a set-piece.
Led by captain Luke Ballinger, England continued to rally and strained to get the goal that could get them back into the game. If England could score, a draw looked on the cards and would be a fair reflection. However it wasn’t to be and in the last minute of the game, Antonios capitalised to seal a 3-0 win.
In the past, England would have been deflated and demoralised after such a defeat going into the third match of the tournament against Georgia, the highest ranked team in the tournament.
But it is a reflection of the strength of character and belief that Sturgess and his staff have ingrained into the players, as they bounced back for this final match.
England had picked up a number of injuries during the tournament and were left with a shortage of outfield options for the game against Georgia, who are ranked 25 places above England and had smashed 10 goals past Malta in their previous game.
However, England started the game in excellent fashion by out-playing Georgia in every department.
The Georgians struggled to cope with the skill and movement of England’s play, and this was demonstrated to deadly effect with an outstanding team passing move that allowed Parkes to set-up a tap-in for Sam Murphy. It was nothing less than what England deserved, and further sharp inter-play cut the Georgians open on a number of occasions in the first half with Ballinger, Jennings and Campana all going close to extending the lead
Reeling from the quality of the England performance, Georgia resorted to the more physical aspects of the game which heightened the tension between the two teams. The Georgians particularly targeted Ballinger with their dark arts, hoping to get a reaction.
But the only reaction from the England captain was to finish exquisitely a minute into the second half following a fine through ball from Cook.
At 2-0 England continued to apply the pressure with multiple shots hitting the framework of the Georgian goal. However, as the second half wore on Georgia slowly began to creep into the game and pin England back.
And it took something exceptional to beat James Dalton in the England goal, as a fierce shot from Sebiskveradze flew through a crowd and into the top corner. It was easily the goal of the tournament.
The Georgians continued to press relentlessly, but England’s defence looked strong and again the eastern Europeans had to resort to foul play to try and ruffle the English mind-set.
The referees eventually dismissed Shelegia for continuous deliberate foul play, but this did not prevent Maisaia scoring another cracking goal from long range for the Georgians to equalise.
2-2 was how this pulsating game eventually finished, which was a significant achievement for England and sends the squad to Lithuania in fine spirits.