Andorra 0 v 3 England (28.03.2007)
Four days after that dismal showing in Tel Aviv, England were once again on foreign soil this time playing Andorra in the neutral venue of Estadio Olimpico in Barcelona.
On paper this was an easy fixture for England, but in light of the two previous below par away performances, the pressure was beginning to mount on Steve McClaren. This was a no win situation – the expectation was a goal fest – anything less and the knives would be well and truly out.
Our afternoon in Barcelona started with a bar crawl in the tourist trap that is ‘Las Ramblas’; and then spilled out past the Columbus Monument into the port area; and then finally along Avenue Parallel. It’s from here, a little worse for wear by now, that we took the ‘Montjuic Funicular Railway’ up to Montjuic. The one stop, 2 minute ride, is about 800m long and climbs a vertical height of 76m; essentially saving us a bit of a drunken hill climb.
Parc Montjuic is usually a picturesque part of the city, but not on a dark, cold, wet March evening! The parc is home to many of the 1992 Olympic venues, and that included the ‘Olympic Stadium’, the then home of Barcelona’s second side Espanyol. With a capacity of 56,000, it would end up more than ¾ empty for tonight’s encounter against Andorra. There were just over 12,000 inside the ground, which was many more than were ‘officially’ allocated tickets through the FA’s allocation. Thousands more had travelled over taking advantage of the neutral venue and readily available tickets.
The miserable wet night set the scene for another dreadful first half showing. 0-0 at half time was the breaking point for many – and the referees whistle was cue for a vitriolic barrage of abuse thrown at the manager which wasn’t pleasant to see. The knives were already out and the final result hadn’t come in yet. In the second half the growing hostilities aimed at the team were clearly having an impact on confidence, most of the players looked frightened to make a mistake or try something out of the ordinary for fear of failure.
Games like this, when fans expect a cricket score, can make for difficult viewing. Andorra set up more defensively against better teams like England compared to a team like Estonia for example. Space is restricted and you end up effectively playing a back 6 with a midfield 4 positioned 6 yards in front of the back line, which in turn is positioned just outside the 18 yard box. It doesn’t matter how good you are, it takes time to break down a set up like that, especially against a team that wasn’t bothered about leaving the edge of their own penalty area let alone their own half. As a minimum you need players to play the ball at pace, have exceptional movement and a more than decent first touch. Anything less than that and it becomes easier for teams to re-organise their defensive shapeand frustrate. Having said that, England had demonstrated in recent and more open games that they didn’t have this minimum in their locker; and as a result this game became more of a struggle than perhaps it ought to have.
The first half performance was unsatisfactory, but there seems to be a growing number of fans these days that see players as ‘robots’ or more like their computerised doubles on the ‘play station’ or ‘x-box’. Tap the ‘circle’ button and you automatically score from 40 yards; tap the ‘X’ button three times and you get a one on one situation. I sometimes wonder if there’s any consideration or recognition of opposition tactics, formations or even the psychological influences in and around the game, before the ‘boo-boys’ surface. Patience is not a virtue in the game anymore.
The game was difficult to watch given the atmosphere surrounding it, but thankfully Steven Gerrard had one of his “grab the game by the scruff of the neck” moments and spared England’s blushes with a low 20 yard drive after 53’ and then grabbed his second on 75’. With Andorra having no intention of attacking the win was in the bag, and it was left to debutant David Nugent to score the 3rd in injury time.
Goals: Gerrard 54, 76, Nugent 90.
With a bit of time to kill the next morning before the flight home, I squeezed some hungover ‘Gaudi’ sightseeing in, with rapid visits to Casa Mila, Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, finished off with Palau National and the Placa d’Espanya. Luckily I’d visited Barcelona before on a ‘non football’ trip, so had spent more time enjoying the Catalunian culture than I’d managed on this visit!