Hodgson era begins with a whimper

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Ok, hands up and be honest now – who was aware that England were playing tomorrow? And of those who knew of England’s game against Norway (kick-off is at 7.45, by the way) who many of you are in the least bit bothered by it?


So unassuming has the build up to England’s game against Norway in Oslo that even the most ardent fan would be forgiven for thinking that he had the weekend to himself. Alas no, a glorious British summer's afternoon will once more be spent sheltering from the glare of the sun in order to catch a glimpse of Roy Hodgson’s new order.


Perhaps it is football fatigue catching up with the masses; there is only so much football drama one can take in a couple of weeks and Manchester City’s Premier League finale along with Chelsea’s Champions League triumph may have left the nation feeling bloated and bilious with sporting drama.


The glare from both games on which so much was riding has left Roy Hodgson’s first game in charge looking a little washed out.


Cast your mind back to Fabio Capello’s first game in charge back in 2008 and the excitement that surrounded it; the Italian had stepped forth to banish the memory of England’s doomed qualification for Euro 2008 and herald a new era of authoritarianism, structure, and ultimately success.


While it was shocking to see England’s 2-1 win over a makeshift Switzerland side fail to lay the foundations of an unprecedented era of success on that night the slate had been wiped clean and the good vibes had returned.


Off the back of a greater period of turmoil than when Capello arrived on these shores, Hodgson’s first game with a tournament lurking on the horizon has been met with about as much fanfare, well, the news that greeted his appointment as national boss. Have the wranglings behind the scenes, politics, stripped captains and an under-whelming managerial choice left expectations irrevocably damaged?


It is perhaps in keeping with the level of expectation that comes with sacking a manager months before a major tournament and replacing him with a man very few fans wanted that little is expected that there is little to be excited about on the pitch either. During England’s first open training session yesterday Hodgson was heard barking orders to the effect of ‘lump it long to the big man’ while a video doing the rounds on the internet sees Hodgson extolling the virtues of his beloved 4-4-2. If you want the Three Lions to burst into life with a stylish roar tomorrow, don’t hold your breath.


Then there is the absence of a host of star players, among which include Chelsea’s brigade of Euro plunderers – England were so shorn of numbers even Gary Neville got a game yesterday during training while Hodgson himself donned a pair of ill-fitting shorts in the hope of a run out. This could well be the most underwhelming England friendly for some time, and that is saying something.


But fly they must if they are to get any semblance of a feeling for one another ahead of the Euros - so what is there to learn from this Scandinavian sojourn?


Well, with Danny Welbeck limping off in training yesterday and Wayne Rooney sunning himself in Sin City it is up to either Andy Carroll or Jermain Defoe to lead the line.


Carroll certainly came to life in the last handful of games last season but hardly did enough to warrant a call up in the first place, however such is the paucity of quality England posses that he is now being tipped to lead the line in England’s first two games while Rooney is suspended. He can at least go some way to justifying his inclusion on Saturday.


At full-back Glen Johnson’s seeping digit prompted a call-up of yet another Liverpool player, Martin Kelly, to Hodgson’s squad at the expense of Manchester City’s Micah Richards to the bafflement of most.


Kyle Walker’s absence with a broken toe has hurt England and it is an area they look vulnerable in, especially with Johnson’s indifferent form - it is an area in which Hodgson will likely be concerned about but he will at least get the chance to how vulnerable it is tomorrow.


The game may also mark an opportunity to catch of glimpse of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the white of England for the first time ever, possibly the only man capable of exciting England’s horde of disillusioned fans.


Of course while there is little excitement surrounding Hodgson’s first game in charge there is plenty for the former Fulham man to lose if his maiden voyage as captain of the good ship England hits choppy waters - he stands on dodgy territory as it is and needs a win under his belt to get the ball rolling straight away. Understandably he will likely stick to a fairly tried and tested formula of experienced England players, look to get a result and ensure his squad doesn’t suffer anymore injures.


One of England’s most memorable trips to Oslo ended in a 2-1 defeat against Norway over 30 years ago.


That game produced one of the more memorable pieces of commentary in which Norwegian commentator Bjorge Lillelien reeled off a list of English celebrities, members of the royal family and dignitaries before declaring ‘your boys took one hell of a beating’. If Hodgson’s men can just avoid a similar scoreline, then they at least will consider it a good job done.

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Andrew Carroll
Wayne Rooney

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