In front of the lowest crowd ever for an international at the new Wembley, England struggled to a narrow 1-0 win over Norway. Just 40,000 people turned up to watch what was England’s first match since crashing out of the 2014 World Cup at the group phase, and witnessed what was largely more uninspiring fair from Roy Hodgson’s side, despite Wayne Rooney marking his first match as permanent captain by converting a second-half penalty after Raheem Sterling had been fouled.
Following the retirements of previous captain Steven Gerrard as well as Frank Lampard, Hodgson picked a young side, with Raheem Sterling starting and impressing in an inexperienced midfield, and John Stones making his first start in defense. But in terms of formation it was a return to a 4-4-2 at the start. And there was little to encourage that events in Brazil, where England picked up just one point from three matches, can be quickly forgotten.
Despite taking on a Norway side that finished fourth in its qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup and which is also in transition, England struggled to create opportunities. The first came the way of Daniel Sturridge 25 minutes in, but, after being supplied by a fine chipped pass by Sterling, he lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and over the crossbar.
Things could even have gotten worse early in the second half. Joshua King, a striker who plies his trade at English Championship side Blackburn Rovers, had a fine chance with a header that required a strong save from Joe Hart to prevent England falling behind. The feeling was one of relief more than joy then when England were awarded a penalty midway through the second half. Sterling, fittingly, was heavily involved. The Liverpool winger was clearly tripped by Omar Elabdellaoui as he looked to go past the defender in the box. Rooney converted with authority from the spot, but more will surely be required to get a similar result when England faces its toughest match of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, in Switzerland on Monday.