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  • Norway v England

Hodgson's choices under scrutiny in Oslo

John Brewin
May 26, 2012
Roy Hodgson will take charge of England for the first time against Norway © PA Photos
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"Five passes across the back - max - and then get it forward."

"You don't have to use short passes," the England manager said. "Not if you want to use your big man up front."

Those attending England's open training day in Manchester were hearing a familiar refrain from nearly 20 years ago, but this was not Graham Taylor barking those instructions. It was Roy Hodgson, a coach supposed to be Euro-cratic in outlook. Concern is developing already among the more alarmist members of Her Majesty's Press Corps but in truth it is going to take rather longer than a day to change England's outlook.

That Norway are the opponents also brings back memories of Taylor. It was in Oslo that the die for England's failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup was cast. A 2-0 defeat was rendered to an England team featuring a bizarre tactical formation, with man-mountain centre-back Gary Pallister playing as left-back to counter the Norwegians' Jostein Flo.

Hodgson is unlikely to be so quixotic in his first game in charge. To do so would be suicidal; any honeymoon would be over already. A friendly game is to be endured as an experiment with minimum damage possible to morale and personnel. Among an international manager's worst nightmares are injuries sustained in pre-tournament friendlies.

He already has his problems. Glen Johnson's septic toe leaves him without a recognised right-back, and may require Phil Jones, the only other member of the 23 with recent experience playing there, to be wrapped in cotton wool. Liverpool's Martin Kelly has been called up, having not even been been on the stand-by list. Phil Jagielka may also play there, though he is on the stand-by list.

Kelly's call-up has generated another media moral panic. Why not Micah Richards? Or at least, that's the question. It seems that Hodgson follows Fabio Capello in not fancying Manchester City's defender, though the current England boss has worked with Kelly at Liverpool and is likely only to use him as a stop-gap. That Richards was on the original stand-by list suggests that there was a frank exchange of views about him not being in the original 23.

And with Wayne Rooney on an extended break to make sure he doesn't get too bored too fast, the question of strikers to stand in for him looks like being answered, but more as a process of elimination than on merit. Danny Welbeck remains on the injured list as he recovers from the shin injury he received at the flying feet of Nigel De Jong in last month's Manchester derby.

So Andy Carroll is the call, seemingly on the balance of a late surge of form as Liverpool's season ebbed away. It does not take a cracking of the enigma code to work out that he is the "big man" of whom Hodgson barked in Manchester. Jermain Defoe, the only other England striker in the squad, could never have that label attached to him.

Do we not like that? Can we not knock it? Your boys took a hell of a beating? Hodgson will want any memories of Oslo to be able to fade fast.

Norway player to watch: Mohammed Abdellaoue. "Moa" was his country's joint-leading goalscorer in qualifying Group H, though his haul of two goals reveals something of the problem for Norway in failing to qualify for the finals. They missed out on the play-offs on goal difference to the Portuguese. Hannover 96's hitman has captained his national team when Brede Hangeland has been absent, and may even be accompanied by his brother Mustafa "Mos" Abdellaoue, of FC Copenhagen.

England player to watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He is not expected to start in Oslo, since Theo Walcott should start on the right-hand side as part of a nominal attacking trio. But with seven subsitutions predicted from Hodgson, the young tyro is expected to be given his head at some point. He can play across the forward line, and Hodgson has enthused about his central midfield role against AC Milan. However, there might be something of Hodgson keeping his wild card in his back pocket.

Key battle: Brede Hangeland v Andy Carroll. This should be a familiar contest, and Hodgson will know all about the Norway captain having bought him for Fulham and having made him one of the most admired defenders in the Premier League. Carroll's size and power will more than meet their match, though should he get Hangeland on the turn then Carroll may have his measure in terms of pace. Hangeland will play deep, as he used to under Hodgson. Carroll's best form often comes in coming from deep, where he is able to build up a head of steam. There could also be quite a few aerial battles...

Trivia: Any mention of Norway v England is not complete without a mention of 1981 and that fabled win for the semi-professional Norwegians over an England team who were actually not that good. Bjorge Lillelien, take it away: "Vi er best i verden! Vi er best i verden! Vi har slatt England 2-1 i fotball!! Det er aldeles utrolig! Vi har slatt England! England, kjempers fodeland. Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana - vi har slatt dem alle sammen. Vi har slatt dem alle sammen.

"Maggie Thatcher can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher, jeg har et budskap til deg midt under valgkampen. Jeg har et budskap til deg: Vi har sl├ątt England ut av Verdensmesterskapet i fotball. Maggie Thatcher, som de sier pa ditt sprak i boksebarene rundt Madison Square Garden i New York: Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!"

Stats: England have failed to score in their last three games against Norway.

Odds: A Norway win is 3.50, an England win is 2.10 at bet365 and the expected draw is 3.30. Fancy reliving 1981 with a 2-1 Norway win and 12.00 are your odds.

Prediction: A dull game, where perhaps the most interesting viewing comes from the bench, with Roy Hodgson's facial expressions being of particular interest. Let's call it a draw with a probable injury scare.

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