Newly-appointed captain Wayne Rooney made it a night to remember as he scored England’s only goal in a 1-0 win over Norway.
The Manchester United striker tucked away a 68th-minute penalty to narrowly edge a game Roy Hodgson’s men will feel they could, and perhaps should, have won by a clearer margin.
Nonetheless, the match signalled the start of a new campaign as the Three Lions look ahead to their opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland next week and put the World Cup behind them.
England 1-0 Norway
Wednesday 3 September 2014
Wembley Stadium connected by EE
Hodgson had named his side the day before, opting for a 4-4-2 formation to allow Rooney to play alongside Daniel Sturridge, while Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson partnered in central midfield.
Everton youngster John Stones was handed his first start in a team with an average age of just 24 - Leighton Baines was the oldest at 29. Meanwhile newcomers to the squad Calum Chambers, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose waited in the wings for their first opportunity at senior level.
Norway were in a similar position to England, having seen their leader Brede Hangeland, like Steven Gerrard, announce his international retirement.
Six of the visitors’ starting line-up featured for the Norwegian Under-21s side that reached last year’s European Championship semi-final, helping knock England out along the way.
However, unlike that night in Israel, the Three Lions were keen to get on the front foot - wide men Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling looking lively - but it took 15 minutes to carve out their first real chance.
Wilshere clipped a beautifully weighted ball over the defence into the path of Arsenal team-mate Chamberlain surging into the box. His first touch was good, but Martin Linnes was close enough to hook away for a corner.
The hosts continued to play much of the game in Norwegian territory, but they remained resolute, closing down space and making it hard for the home side. Wilshere was pulling the strings in midfield, threading passes through tight gaps and his first touch was like a cushion of eiderdown.
However, it was Sterling who created their next opening – a raking pass in behind the Norway back-line which found Sturridge in space. Controlling well, the Liverpool striker lifted the ball over the head of on-rushing keeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland, but it dropped agonisingly onto the roof of the net.
England 1-0 Norway
Baines also had decent chance as he steamed into the box, collecting a pass from Sterling and driving goalwards, but again a visiting leg deflected the danger.
Wilshere was left bemused five minutes before the break when he drifted into the box and ended up sprawled out on the floor by Havard Nordtveit’s clumsy lunge. But Portuguese referee Jorge Sousa was not interested and waved play on.
At the start of the second half, Norway found a new lease of life and enjoyed a period of pressure that almost resulted in a goal, but for Joe Hart’s fine save. Ruben Yttergard Jenssen delivered a corner from the left which was met by the head of Blackburn Rovers forward Joshua King eight yards out. Hart reacted well to push away to safety.
Hart again denied King after the Norwegian attacked down Stones’ right-hand side and opened up space for the shot, but it was routine for the keeper.
The Three Lions, on the other hand, weren’t as fluid as in the first half but finally made the breakthrough with 22 minutes left.
It was sparked by the footwork of Sterling inside left-hand side of the box. The 19-year-old tricked his way past Omar Elabdellaoui and the Olympiacos defender could do nothing but stretch out in hope. His hopes were dashed when
Sterling hit the deck and the referee this time pointed to the spot.
Rooney made no mistake, dispatching his penalty expertly inside the post before making way for his former Old Trafford team-mate Danny Welbeck to enter the fray from the bench. James Milner also came on, while Aston Villa midfielder Delph was handed his England debut.
Welbeck, who less than 48 hours earlier had secured a move to Arsenal, was quickly into the action, turning on the edge of the area before firing powerfully goalwards. Nyland parried away well.
The changes re-invigorated England and the energy of Delph, in particular, helped carve out another opening for Henderson, which the Liverpool midfielder sent over the bar.
Chambers’ introduction brought the average age down further – if only slightly – as the 19-year-old Gunner replaced 20-year-old Stones at right-back.
As Norway looked to get back into the game, an England counter-attack sent man of the match Sterling away into the opposition’s half and he squared for Milner who had arrived on the edge of the penalty area. But the defence scrambled back to block the midfielder’s effort.
Had it not have been for the graft of Norway’s rear guard, it could have been a far more comfortable result for Hodgson’s team.
But their performance and victory will certainly provide them with confidence ahead of Monday’s trip to Basel.
England (4-4-2): 1 Joe Hart, 2 John Stones, 3 Leighton Baines, 4 Jordan Henderson, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 Phil Jones, 7 Jack Wilshere, 8 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 9 Daniel Sturridge, 10 Wayne Rooney (C), 11 Raheem Sterling.
Substitutes: 19 Danny Welbeck for Rooney (70), 16 James Milner for Oxlade-Chamberlain (70), 17 Fabian Delph for Wilshere (70), 15 Calum Chambers for Stones (81), 14 Phil Jagielka for Cahill (84), 20 Rickie Lambert for Sturridge (89).
Substitutues not used: 12 Danny Rose, 13 Fraser Forster, 18 Andros Townsend.
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Goals: Rooney (Pen; 68)
Norway:12 Orjan Haskjold Nyland, 6 Stefan Johansen, 7 Joshua King, 8 Havard Nordtveit, 10 Tarik Elyounoussi, 15 Per Ciljan Skjelbred (C), 16 Omar Elabdellaoui, 17 Martin Linnes, 19 Ruben Yttergard Jenssen, 20 Mats Moller Daehli, 23 Vegard Forren.
Substitutes: 5 Per Egil Flo for Linnes (36), 14 Anders Konradsen for Moller Daehli (57), 24 Mohamed Elyouhoussi for Skjelbred, 18 Havard Nielsen for King (76), 25 Ola Kamara for Elyounoussi (78), 11 Morten Gamst Pedersen for Yttergard Jenssen (87).
Substitutes not used: 1 Rune Almenning Jarstein, 22 Andre Hansen, 3 Fredrik Semb Berge, 4 Steffen Hagen, 9 Jone Samuelsen, 21 Alexander Tettey.
Manager: Per-Mathias Hoegmo
Referee: Jorge Sousa (Portugal)
Assistant referees: Bertino Miranda and Alvaro Mesquita (Portugal)
Fourth official: Arthur Soares Dias (Portugal)