England began the first of their final preparatory matches before the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a close 2-1 victory over Nigeria.
England Brush Aside Nigeria at Wembley
The Three Lions began by dominating possession as expected, with 75% of the ball in the opening five minutes, by halftime this only dropped by 10%. It was a thoroughly controlling display by the players.
Gary Cahill powered a header past Ogenyi Onazi on the goal line from a wonderful corner. This was following a decent free-kick hit from 25 yards by Kieran Trippier. It was Trippier again who delivered to his team-mate from the resultant corner.
The second goal came from Harry Kane, whose shot was rather feebly let in by Francis Uzoho. At half-time, the match was looking rather pedestrian for England. However, within two minutes of the second half, Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi pounced first to a rebound to give Nigeria hope. This sparked a period of revival for the away team who grew into the match. By the final third of the match, the teams had a rather more equal distribution of possession but also in chance creation. Substitutions took their toll on the quality of the game, with the dynamics of the becoming rather sluggish and uninspiring.
Kieran Trippier had a positive game for England. His corner set-piece set up Gary Cahill for his emphatic header. Throughout the match, his crossing and passes behind the back line were incisive and troubling for Nigeria.
This is a promising sign from a player who appears to be the first-choice for the right full-back berth. It is his width that offers a good outlet for England, where he finds space. He doesn’t offer as much pace as the likes of Danny Rose and Ashley Young on the flanks, but it is his delivery that marks him out. For both Spurs and England, he has been quietly performing his role. This competition serves as a brilliant opportunity to allow him to flourish.
A Tough Test?
Nigeria do not have the same quality as some of the top-ranked teams in the World Cup. However, they do offer a similar challenge to Panama and Tunisia, who England must soon face.
Still, these are teams that cannot be taken lightly, and thus the friendly was another test of the team’s discipline. Overall, the players matched the physical challenge and effort of Nigeria and mostly defended well when called upon.
The likes of John Stones and Gary Cahill will be facing much tougher opposition. Jordan Pickford was quick off his line and responded well to the shots he had any right to save. He could do nothing for the rebound goal, but his defence was not strong enough to resist the Nigerian attack.
Regardless, England’s youngest tournament keeper should continue to be trusted by Southgate. It was in the second half where the defensive unit was tested and found faulty at times.
Nevertheless, any real conclusions about the nations chance in the upcoming tournament should be suspended. There is only one way of testing the water, and that is by the opening World Cup matches.
Kane The Playmaker
Not only is he capable of scoring goals, Kane is also able to drop deeper into that playmaker role. He started out as a number ten in the Spurs youth academy and still is able to perform such a role.
A 40-yard raking pass from Kane in the first half opened up some space for Raheem Sterling, who failed to covert the chance. However, shortly after this move, Kane exchanged passes with him, receiving the ball on the edge of the box and firing a shot at Francis Uzoho, who failed to keep it out. He was subbed off by 72 minutes in a conservative move by Southgate to preserve this important player.
On 52 minutes, Sterling was in on goal, taking the ball past the keeper and already lining up a woeful dive. He had already anticipated the contact and went to ground embarrassingly early. Whilst there is a certain degree of gamesmanship in the modern game, this was stretching its definition too far. This is a kind of behaviour that should not be condoned in any shape or form by Southgate.
Putting the dive aside, he was otherwise positively involved throughout the game with a lot of time spent driving forward with the ball, causing defenders havoc with his pace and dribbling ability. However, his final product was found lacking.
England had twelve shots and four were on target. This seems to be a recurrent issue in the side. Too often players waste chances.
Sterling was particularly frivolous with several opportunities in the first half, but most of the players lacked the killer touch or the clinical finish in that final third.
Substitutions in Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford had little time to make any real impression. The only important detail is that Harry Kane continues to demonstrate his goal-scoring prowess. But, he really should get some help from his fellow kinsmen.
The key takeaway point from this game is the fact that England won the match and Kane has kept scoring goals. The nation does not solely rely on his ability, but nevertheless having a goalscorer of his experience in full fitness and good form is vital to progressing to the latter stages of the tournament. It may be a friendly, but England are still on the front foot heading into their next friendly match against Costa Rica.