England’s second of three pre-World Cup friendlies saw both positives and negatives for manager and fans, as Hodgson’s side were held 2-2 by Ecuador in Florida.
After initially falling behind following Enner Valencia’s powerful header, England equalised through the boot of Wayne Rooney in a scrappy point-blank finish. Shortly after the second half kicked off, recent Liverpool signing Rickie Lambert fired home to take the lead for England, a strike that was outdone on the night only by Michael Arroyo’s equaliser from the edge of the area on 70 minutes.
With only one game remaining before England kick off their World Cup Finals campaign against Italy on 14 June, question marks remain over Hodgson’s men and their ability to progress through the forthcoming competition.
England created a number of chances upon which they failed to capitalise; despite being the superior side on paper, The Three Lions were unable to put away their opponents, a problem not unfamiliar to this international team.
At the other end of the pitch, the partnership of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones failed to convincingly stake their claims for starting positions, with two preventable goals conceded. Had Ecuador not themselves butchered a number of chances, notably Antonio Valencia’s late mishit that struck the post following a poor pass to set him up, the game could have been won by Reinaldo Rueda’s side.
Hodgson, however, had indicated earlier in the week that his starting XI against Ecuador would be an experimental one. It featured a number of players expected not to start during the World Cup Finals, including goalkeeper Ben Foster, striker Rickie Lambert, and youngsters Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley, while others (James Milner and Wayne Rooney) played out of their conventional positions.
What will leave Hodgson pleased is the manner in which many of these players seized their opportunity to show their worth and potential.
Barkley again showed himself as an attacker who is constantly maturing at a considerably young age; Lambert provided a serious threat on the wing, supplying England’s only convincing goal scoring strike; and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, substituted after the hour mark with a knee injury, displayed the damage his searing pace can do.
The question marks that exist over this England team are not all critical. The performances of those vying for their position in the starting XI outlined above will put further pressure on the first choice team to justify their starting positions, and can only be good news for Roy Hodgson.
Selection headaches are always welcomed when it involves a surplus of players performing well.
As has been noted, this England side was an experimental one, and the mixed results should be treated as such. The starting XI witnessed against Ecuador was not one that we will see again in the coming World Cup. It was, at best, an unpolished performance, but Hodgson will be less concerned with the performance of the team as he will be with those of the individuals in it.
Any questions we may have had over this England team’s ability to perform in the coming World Cup have only been added to rather than answered, simply because the team playing last night was, as a whole, in no way representative of that which will take to the field in Manaus on 14 June.
It is likely that this weekend’s final friendly against Honduras will hold the key.
Adam Behan, Pundit Arena.