Ten-man England start with a win
Monday, 15 June, 2009
Stuart Pearce's side open their Euro 2009 campaign with victory over Finland.
Jamie Bradbury in Halmstad
Ten-man England kicked off Euro 2009 with a hard-fought win over a tough Finland side to give them the start they were looking for in Group B.
Lee Cattermole and Micah Richards scored the goals in either half, but the sending off of Michael Mancienne after half an hour made the warm and sunny evening in Halmstad a very hard one for Stuart Pearce’s side.
It was a big and physical Finnish side who was greeted by the near-sell out crowd, alongside the Three Lions, and were spurred on by the singing and cheering of the largely Finnish support excited by the presence of their team in a European Finals for the first time.
The players were clearly up for it, throwing in strong, but fair, challenges when England had the ball, and pinning them back with their direct play.
On eight minutes the Finnish crowd had cause to scream for a penalty. A quickly taken free-kick just inside England’s half found Sadik with just Michael Mancienne alongside. The Chelsea man forced him wide inside the area, and Sadik went down, presumably he thought he’d been clipped, but Turkish referee Cakir Cuneyt disagreed.
And despite all their pressure, England took the lead with their first opening. James Milner played a long ball forward Gabriel Agbonlahor and the Villa Man lost his marker inside the box, to square to Cattermole who rolled home under Anssi Jaakkola for his second goal for England.
It settled England down while quietening the crowd and gave Pearce’s side the chance to enjoy some of the possession. Kieran Gibbs’ fine through ball to Agbonlahor looked spot on, but was just too quick, even for the striker.
Finland were winning a number of free-kicks in good positions and Perparim Hetemaj was the man to get on the ball each time. After a high foot from Fabrice Muamba, the AEK Athens midfielder delivered into the England box, but Sadik couldn’t guide goalwards.
Sadik was amongst it again getting in behind Mancienne once more. He only had Joe Hart between him and goal now, but Mancienne made a challenge, sending him sprawling. The referee signalled instantly for the penalty, and reached for his top pocket and his red card, sending the defender off.
Sparv, former team-mate of England’s Walcott and Cranie at Southampton and now playing for Halmstad in this very stadium, stepped up to send Hart the wrong way and the crowd into delirium with just over 30 minutes played.
It put the life back into the team and their fans, who felt that the games was maybe turning their way. Pearce dropped Milner into the right back slot, moving Cranie across to partner Richards.
Hetemaj was enjoying himself again too, despite wearing an odd-looking bandana, and made two decent runs at England, from either side of the pitch, but the final ball was missing.
At half-time, Pearce made a switch, taking Walcott off and bringing Fraizer Campbell to work alongside Agbonlahor in a two-pronged attack.
It gave England a more threatening edge, while in midfilder they were winning more battles with Sparv and Mehmet Hetemaj and winning a couple of free-kicks. And it was Milner who almost benefitted from a set-piece 22 yards out. He found the top corner with a well delivered curler, but Jaakkola reached high to push around the post for a corner.
When Milner’s right foot drove the ball in from, Richards arrived with a powerful header inside the post to edge the ten men back in front with eight minutes gone in the second half.
With Campbell and Agbonlahor posing problems, Finland were coming under more pressure than during the first period. Captain Mark Noble linked up with Gibbs on the left, and the Arsenal full-back fired across the face of goal, the ball asking to be turned home, but no one was on the end of it.
Finland were getting frustrated, after sensing a real opportunity slip away, and particularly Sparv who was clearly disappointed at any decision that went England’s way on his home ground. Meanwhile Hetemaj the elder, Perparim, was trying some solo heroics, shooting from everywhere, without joy.
In the closing stages the Finns pushed forward, searching for an equaliser. Richards was injured following a corner that substitute Jussi Vasara headed just wide, meaning another switch for Pearce with James Tomkins coming on, then fellow Finnish replacement Pukki Teemu found time on the edge of the area but could only find the hands of Hart.
Hetemaj tried one last effort as they threw everything at England but the shot fizzed over the bar and with it went their chance of a point. The referee’s whistle was greeted with relief from a tired England side, and the injury and sending off may cause problems ahead of the Spain game on Thursday, with Mancienne suspended for a match, but with three points on the board with one game played, it’s a great start for the Three Lions.
1 Joe Hart, 2 Martin Cranie, 4 Lee Cattermole, 7 James Milner, 9 Gabby Agbonlahor (21 Jack Rodwell, 85), 10 Mark Noble (c), 12 Fabrice Muamba, 14 Theo Walcott (21 Fraizer Campbell, 46), 17 Micah Richards (16 James Tomkins, 89), 18 Michael Mancienne, 19 Kieran Gibbs
3 Andrew Taylor, 5 Richard Stearman, 6 Nedum Onuoha, 8 Craig Gardner, 11 Adam Johnson, 13 Joe Lewis, 20 Andrew Driver, 22 Scott Loach, 23 Danny Rose
Coach Stuart Pearce
1 Anssi Jaakkola, 3 Jukka Raitala, 4 Jonas Portin, 5 Toumo Turunen, 6 Tim Sparv (c), 7 Kasper Hamalainen (18 Jussi Vasara, 80), 8 Mehmet Hetemaj, 9 Berat Sadik, 11 Jarno Parikka (20 Pukki Teemu, 65), 14 Joni Aho, 16 Perparim Hetemaj (17 Juha Hakola, 86)
12 Jon Masalin, 23 Jukka Lehtovaara, 2 Ville Jalasto, 10 Nicolas Otaru, 13 Pyry Karkkainen, 15 Ilari Aijala, 19 Aleksandr Kokko, 21 Petri Viljanen, 22 Joona Toivio
Coach Markku Kanerva
Referee Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
Assistants Gyorgy Ring (Hun) and Jaanus Mutli (Est)
Fourth Official Markus Strombergsson