For the first time in the seven-year history of the new Wembley, the arena was less than half full for an England international as 40,181 underwhelmed fans witnessed a familiar old diet of mostly turgid, uninspiring fare from Roy Hodgson's World Cup failures, enlivened mainly by the sparky contribution of Raheem Sterling.
It was the Liverpool teenager's constant buzzing and probing at the fringes of the Norwegian defence which finally undid the visitors after 68 fairly laborious minutes as he outfoxed and outpaced Omar Elabdellaoui, forcing the Olympiakos man into a rash challenge on the left edge of the box.
Relief seemed to shoot through Wayne Rooney, who had hitherto looked to be trying almost too hard in his newly-offered captaincy role, as he stepped up to smash the resultant penalty with some venom high past Orjan Haskjold Nyland for his 41st England goal.
Until then, his England, with its inexperienced pallor, a midfield yet to gel and still seemingly suffering from a post-Brazil hangover, could only huff and puff as they tried to blow away the world's 53rd ranked team.
England's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (front) is challenged by Norway's Ruben Yttergard Jenssen (Reuters)
For much of the time, it was painful to behold England, a reflection of some of the team's hapless and winless struggles in Brazil in the first game since those indignities.
For a brief moment early in the second half as England seemed to be running out of ideas, Norway had even started fancying their chances to the point that the home goalkeeper Joe Hart was twice forced to make excellent saves from Joshua King, a striker for the Championship side Blackburn Rovers.
They will all have to play a good deal better in Basel against Switzerland on Monday in what promises to be their most difficult qualifier but manager Hodgson was satisfied with what he felt was a confidence rebuilding triumph.
WHAT HODGSON SAID
"We enjoyed some positive moments, some good movement and good play. Our passing was good although I was not very happy with how we started the second half," said Hodgson.
"Without letting Norway into the game totally, we gave them hope. For the last 30 minutes we were pretty good value for our victory. We wanted a clean sheet and got that."
When probed on England’s paltry two shots on target, Hodgson was in fiery mood:
Hodgson, while in many ways an admirable man, just does not appear up to the job of getting England to fulfil its potential. With very little time to prepare his charges, a quarter-final at Euro 2012 seemed a respectable outcome even if the football served up was boorish and laboured. However, the qualifying campaign for Brazil was as turgid and the performance at the World Cup left a lot to be desired. There has been very little improvement in this England side over the course of his tenure. Granted, a raft of international retirements has not helped England or Hodgson’s cause but, make no bones about it, this England team should be disposing of a side of Norway’s calibre with a far greater degree of ease than was on show on Wednesday night. Furthermore, Hodgson belligerence in the face of a pitiful two shots on target suggests that he may not even be able to fully see the task ahead of him. And, as for Rooney, his captaincy probably makes him undroppable and, if his form continues as it is now, then his undroppable status will be to the detriment of the team.
Wayne Rooney England v Norway (Getty)
WHAT THE MEDIA SAID
Paul Hayward (Telegraph): It was not anger that slashed the crowd to 40,181 so much as indifference. The biggest actual grudge seems to be that the Premier League was stopped for the international break just when it was starting to get interesting. Referring to the talent development system for English players in the Premier League, Roy Hodgson said: “The major problem is the pathway.” The pathway to Wembley also tells its story. Wembley Way: a quiet thoroughfare.
Barney Ronay (Guardian): Welcome, then, to the new England order. Which looks, on the face of it, quite a lot like the old England order. This friendly international had been trailed in the match programme as the start of “a new journey”, a moment of fresh starts and new cycles and general youthful evolution. And yet England’s 1-0 victory here felt like something more painfully familiar, from the awkward, angular early exchanges, that sense of England’s players struggling always to control a ball that simply wants to bounce too much; right down to the tiny speckles of moribund hope, of talent unexpressed and potential unexplored, that decorated a night of second-rate international football at a stadium wreathed in a predictable fug of post-World Cup ennui.
- Sports & Recreation
- Roy Hodgson