Monday, June 15, 2009

Pearce relieved to have Finnished them off

At the final whistle the Finnish reporter sat beside me threw his pen down in anger and wrenched the plug to his computer from Pearce relieved to have Finnished them off.its socket.

I have never seen a hack so brassed off. Showing emotion or partisanship is the last thing the men in the press box should do. I have seen 20-something Korean writers leap with exhiliration as Seol Ki-Hyeon raced upfield for Reading, but this guy was blazered and middle-aged and should have known better. On the other hand, that football can raise such spirits in a man of his vintage and professionalism is somewhat charming.

This was his country's first game in a finals tournament after all and they had put up a brave show, outshooting England eighteen to six and shading possession. But the final score was three points to England and none to the Finns. It is a cruel game, this football.

You had to feel sorry for Finland, losing the way they did. England played like Manchester United or Chelsea do away from home, stealing the points without playing well, the mark of a champion.

"Often the difference between two teams is in front of goal," rued Finland coach Markku Tapio afterwards. "They did not create many chances but scored two goals. But I am very proud of how my players played today - their courage and their fighting spirit. But we did not have that extra energy and England are a very physical team."

Man of the match Mark Noble cited the esprit du corps as England's strongest asset: "As a group of players and a group of friends we dug it out and got the three points," the West Ham star told reporters.

His coach Stuart Pearce was less than impressed however:

"There is a good camararderie among the players," he agreed, "but we know we have to play better than that. The way we played certainly was not good enough to win this tournament, that is for sure.

I've watched training for the past two weeks and they have passed the ball around fantastically well. You will have to take my word for that. The only surprise on the pitch was how England played as they did.

We expect a better performance on Thursday and against Spain we will have to get one."

Pearce changed England's formation to 4-3-2 at the interval, bravely taking the much-hyped Theo Walcott off, a gamble which came off. "It might have been easy to go 4-4-1," he explained, "but I thought we could trouble them with the pace of Agbonlahor and Campbell. You have to go with your gut feelings as a manager: It was a bitter-sweet situation at half-time, 1-1 with a man sent off. We felt we could win this game but we had to have two strikers on."

Pearce has some defensive reshuffling to do with Michael Mancienne's suspension and Micah Richards' slight knock, but felt untroubled by his backline options after James Milner slotted ably into right-back for the second half. The England coach also took time to praise his opponents, and said he expected the Finns to cause trouble to both Spain and Germany in their remaining group games.

An unusually hot and testing first outing for England U21s therefore, and an edgy performance whose shortcomings Pearce may lose a little sleep over for now. Yet,

"When you wake up tomorrow morning," he concluded, "the only thing that will matter is those three points."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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