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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
McClaren's dream debut
By Howard Nurse
BBC Sport website football editor at Old Trafford

Steven Gerrard shakes hands with England boss Steve McClaren
Steven Gerrard was back to his best for England
What a difference a year makes.

On 17 August last year England suffered their heaviest defeat in 25 years - a humiliating 4-1 thrashing against a Denmark side that failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

Twelve months on - and with more or less the same players - England hammered reigning European Champions Greece 4-0 at Old Trafford in new head coach Steve McClaren's first match in charge.

England were transformed. They were no longer abject and lifeless as in Germany, so why did England go from zeroes to heroes in just one match?


McClaren has breathed fresh life into the England set-up by appointing John Terry as the new captain, recruiting former manager Terry Venables as his number two and axing the ineffective David Beckham, Sol Campbell and David James.

The England coach had three days to prepare for the match. During that time he held numerous team meetings and told the players what he expected of them. McClaren imparted a lot of information which the players clearly took on board.

He told them to go out and express themselves against Greece - and it showed. The shackles came off and Greece could not live with England's pace and determination.

England have now set a new standard - and a far more acceptable one than that produced under former manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Eriksson, who is still being paid his wages by the Football Association, become a lame duck in Germany and although McClaren still has much to prove, the ex-Middlesbrough manager has enjoyed a flying start.


John Terry, who beforehand admitted England had gone into decline and were no longer "a good team" following their World Cup embarrassment, led by example.

It was fitting that he should head home the first goal of the McClaren era after 14 minutes. Fitting too that the Chelsea captain should kiss the captain's armband as he reeled away to celebrate.

Terry, 25, barely put a foot wrong on his 30th appearance for England and looked comfortable alongside Rio Ferdinand. The captaincy is surely his for a long time to come.


England barely had a plausible plan under Eriksson but with the Swede out of the way, McClaren (whose reputation was to some extent tarnished under Eriksson) did it his way (with a bit of help from Venables).

Midfield was the key. So too was possession and the fact Greece could not live with England's power.

Steven Gerrard replaced Beckham on the right and with Owen Hargreaves anchoring midfield, Frank Lampard was given freedom to roam.

They were ably supported by Stewart Downing on the left, and both produced the quality of display we have seen countless times when they don the colours of Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.

McClaren has proved that Gerrard and Lampard can play in the same team and be effective.

England's midfield controlled the game, passed the ball well and even received support from Rio Ferdinand who turned back the clock to when he first hit the international scene by frequently pushing forward from defence.

Hargreaves was "phenomenal" according to McClaren afterwards and did his chances of a transfer to Manchester United no harm.

The Bayern Munich midfielder was watched from the South Stand by United chief executive David Gill who may now be tempted to put in an offer for the new darling of Team England.

Peter Crouch, now with eight goals in 12 England games, and the recalled Jermain Defoe worked hard and dropped back into midfield when needed.

Later on, with the game won, McClaren showed his flexibility by switching to a 4-5-1 system before reverting to 4-4-2 in the closing stages.


At first glance, Wednesday's attendance of 45,864 looked less than impressive. There was a slightly eerie feel to Old Trafford with 30,000 seats empty for a full international.

Andorra (H) - 2 September
Macedonia (A) - 6 September
Macedonia (H) - 7 October
Croatia (A) - 11 October

England's fans voted with their feet by not snapping up tickets and making it another sell-out. After the failings in Germany when England were exposed as being over-hyped and plain dreadful they probably did well to get almost 46,000.

It was higher than all the night's other international matches, apart from home games for World Cup winners Italy (50,150 v Croatia) and hosts Germany (53,000 v Sweden).

The manner of the 4-0 thumping of Greece should have the tills ringing again for the opening Euro 2008 qualifier against Andorra on 2 September at Old Trafford and if England can maintain this greater show of passion then the fans will quickly jump back on board.


McClaren has vowed to take all England matches more seriously when it comes to making substitutions.

Eriksson enjoyed nothing more than trying to keep the Premiership managers happy by making 11 changes at half-time during previous friendlies.

This time, McClaren's only interval switch was to introduce Chris Kirkland in goal. Admittedly, more substitutions followed but that was fair enough with the score at 4-0 and the Premiership kick-off almost upon us.


England remembered how to play again as they pulverised Greece.

But we must remember the standard of the opposition was particularly poor in the first half. These were no Greek gods - but merely an ageing group of players who conquered Europe in 2004 only to see their Fifa world ranking slip to 32nd this week.

Expectations were low after the World Cup, so McClaren was always on to a winner barring any real disaster.

Next up are Andorra and Macedonia (twice) before McClaren's first proper tests away to Croatia in October and a friendly in Holland in November.

Perhaps then we can cast a more realistic eye over proceedings - but for now at least, McClaren & co have made all the right moves.

England 4-0 Greece
16 Aug 06 |  Internationals
BBC pundits on England
16 Aug 06 |  Internationals
McClaren hails England work rate
16 Aug 06 |  Internationals


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