By Simon Walker
England played in front of two full-houses at the Sporthouse in London last week, and the fans were treated to two excellent exhibition matches of top-quality international Futsal.
The double-header was a repeat of the match which the two nations played in Lithuania earlier this year, which saw England edge a thrilling contest 4-3 to knock Lithuania out of the UEFA Futsal Euros and progress into the Main Round.
Boss Peter Sturgess went into the games hoping to blood a handful of new young players and looking to introduce a more attacking playing style to the England team.
And England seemed to relish the greater attacking freedom the new playing style allowed them in the first game.
England v Lithuania
England 2–1 Lithuania, 28/11/13
England 0–2 Lithuania, 29/11/13
Continuously pushing forward and pressing the visitors, England team looked hungry and determined and were noticeably playing higher up the pitch in comparison to previous international matches.
The excellent Guillermo Wallace shone brightest by launching numerous English attacks but the quality of the final ball was often absent in the first half.
Luke Ballinger came closest after hitting the post, and Sam Murphy was inches away from reaching far-post tap-ins on several occasions.
But it eventually came down to Wallace to unlock the deep-lying Lithuanian defence with a shot from distance that fired into the bottom corner straight after half-time.
That goal settled the crowd and England’s confidence grew as they dominated the second period, with Lithuania forced into defensive mode for long spells.
However, it took until the 38th minute for Ian Parkes to slot home a well-worked and crucial second goal.
Lithuania did manage a consolation goal in the last seconds with Jeremejev hammering home a crisp volley into the top corner to end the game 2-1.
The second match on Friday was a sell-out, with the crowd desperate to see a repeat performance from England.
And Pete Sturgess’ men started on the front foot again, pressing high and putting the Lithuanians under pressure with Ballinger striking the bar within the first minute.
But the Lithuanians showed more organisation in their defending and looked threatening when they were able to counter-attack.
The turning point came when a harmless cross from Gulbinas was handled by Murphy in the box, conceding a penalty that Bezykornovas dispatched to give Lithuania a 1-0 lead going into half-time.
England threw everything at their visitors after that, with Wallace once again in outstanding form in prompting wave after wave of attacks against an increasingly defensive and resolute Lithuanian defence.
But on the rare moment that Lithuania pushed forward in the 30th minute, they managed to increase their lead after a scrappy goal-mouth scramble that ended with an unfortunate own-goal from Murphy.
England continued to press and half-chances came and went with Lithuanianj ‘keeper Baj saving spectacularly from Ben Mortlock and a long-distance penalty from Ballinger. No matter what England tried, it was clear that they weren’t going to score in this game.
After dominating both games and playing some excellent Futsal, England will be extremely disappointed not to leave without two wins.
But with their all-round game having noticeably improved over the past year, the importance of breaking down a packed defensive unit and taking your chances is something Pete Sturgess’ men will need to work on further.
There are many positive signs for the England team to end the year on though, and English Futsal is still progressing in the right direction.