Macca's men defeat Greece
16 Aug 2006 - 22:45:04
A devastating first-half performance ensured Steve McClaren's reign as England boss got off to a successful start with a 4-0 victory against Greece at Old Trafford.
England were unrecognisable in the opening 45 minutes as the team that struggled at the World Cup finals. They were well organised in midfield, passed the ball incisively and played with real pace going forward.
The exciting approach brought them four goals before the interval, with new skipper John Terry and Frank Lampard finding the target in the opening half-hour before Peter Crouch netted a brace.
Unfortunately one of the worst features of the Sven-Goran Eriksson era reared its ugly head and England's second-half display dropped dramatically.
The European champions dominated after the interval, but half-time substitute Chris Kirkland made an impressive debut in goal to ensure the hosts kept a clean sheet.
McClaren's first selection was hardly revolutionary, with eight of the team that started the World Cup quarter-final loss to Portugal retaining their places.
Former captain David Beckham was dropped, while Joe Cole and Wayne Rooney were ruled out by injury. Stewart Downing, Crouch and Jermain Defoe were the men to benefit, and all three made vital contributions to the victory.
Downing's accurate crossing and Defoe's pace and work-rate made a real difference, while Crouch's busy display brought him two goals.
Steven Gerrard revelled in his role on the right side of midfield and for once managed to reproduce his Liverpool form in an England jersey.
The first goal took only 15 minutes to arrive. Lampard chipped a free-kick in to the area and Crouch headed the ball back across goal.
There appeared to be little danger but visiting goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis' poor punch gave Downing the chance to head the ball back in to the danger area and Terry climbed highest to nod home.
Crouch missed a great chance to double the lead when he headed a pinpoint Gerrard cross wide, but the Liverpool targetman and the jet-heeled Defoe caused constant problems to the Greek defence.
It was Defoe who created the second on the half-hour mark, picking out Lampard as he charged in to the area. The Chelsea man was clearly fouled as he collected the pass, but got his reward for staying on his feet when his shot deflected off Paraskevas Antzas and ended up in the back of the net.
It was exactly the kind of break Lampard had so badly needed in Germany.
Five minutes later Downing capitalised on a poor defensive header by Loukas Vyntra and picked out Lampard six yards from goal. Nikopolidis parried the midfielder's shot, but Crouch was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Crouch grabbed a second two minutes before the interval, heading home from close range from another Downing cross.
The visitors made four changes at the break and the difference was immediately apparent, with the lively Ioannis Amanatidis creating havoc in the England backline.
Kirkland tipped a shot from Amanatidis over for a corner ten minutes after the interval. The home defence struggled to deal with the flag-kick and were thankful to Ashley Cole, who blocked goal bound efforts from Traianos Dellas and Amanatidis.
England spent much of the second period in their own half, but defended strongly and restricted Greece to very few clear chances.
The best of those fell to Giorgos Karagounis, who collected a mis-placed pass from Terry and unleashed an angled drive, but Kirkland was alert to the danger and pushed the ball round the post to ensure nothing spoiled McClaren's night.