England’s World Cup build up got off to a solid start over the weekend with a 2-1 win against Nigeria
Although we’re still two weeks away from England’s first match against Tunisia in Volgograd, this friendly showcased a team that should stand a real chance in the upcoming tournament.
With disappointing results in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros, coupled with a young squad, the team and its chances in the tournament have been under a great deal of scrutiny the past few weeks. However, the first half presented an energetic and effective team, bolstered by some stellar performances by Spurs players.
The team wasted no time in getting the goals in, with a clinical header by Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, set-up by a well placed corner kick from Kieran Trippier, putting England ahead just seven minutes in.
— Indy Football (@IndyFootball) June 2, 2018
England continued in this vein for the rest of the half, dominating the pitch with some well crafted set-ups by the midfielders and strikers. A sense of real, dedicated purpose on the pitch is something that England has been missing for a long time, but they had it in spades here. The plays had width, confidence, skill and a real sense of trust between all involved. With Eric Dier holding strong in midfield, the team were pushing forward, making chances and allowing the talents of the partnership of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Man City’s Raheem Sterling to shine, with all finding a number of chances to take shots.
England’s domination of the Nigerian half came to fruition at the 39th minute, when, with the briefest of glances, Harry Kane slotted the ball neatly past the Nigerian goalkeeper from the edge of the box for his 8th goal in 7 international matches, showing us why he deserves to be in the captains armband. They don’t call him King Kane for nothing.
Eight goals in his last seven #ThreeLions appearances.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) June 2, 2018
The Second Half
If the first half was a glimpse at England’s present, the second was a glimpse into its past. England conceded their first goal just four minutes after the restart, with Odion Ighalo charging through on goal and hitting the post, before Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi followed it up with a blindingly quick goal.
Following that, the wind was taken out of England’s sails somewhat, with a distinct lack of pace and drive shaping the rest of the game. Couple this with Sterling being booked for diving, and this was a distinct reminder of the deflated, unfocused football England has been criticised for in recent times and it was all England could do until the full time whistle to keep their one goal lead.
What can Gareth Southgate learn going into the World Cup?
Its obvious England has an immensely talented squad going into the tournament. The set-pieces, teamwork and fluidity showcased in the first half put the team in good stead for Russia, aided in no small part by a crop of top Spurs players. Supplement this with the notorious pace and goal scoring talent of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy come July, and England will pose a real threat when they go on the attack.
However, Southgate and the squad need to be aware of the versatility and staying power of the team. It was revealed after the match that in Nigeria’s second half comeback, their coach Gernot Rohr simply switched up his tactics to mirror England’s. This simple change resulted in Nigeria’s goal, their second half domination and a noticeable drop in England’s confidence, a domino effect that will be catastrophic against a more experienced team such as Brazil, Germany or Belgium in the group stages.
However, there is much to celebrate from this match. Southgate clearly knows how the team plays, and which areas need to be leaned into in upcoming games, saying after the match that;
“I was really pleased with the first half. I thought we used the ball well and were a threat going forward…I liked the interchange of movement and the passing between our front four. We were then able to win the ball back with our pressing.”
Although the second half was a disappointment, its certainly better to be discovering holes in the teams strategy now, rather than against Tunisia in two weeks time. With another friendly against Costa Rica on Thursday 7th June to test other ideas and players, as well as a team that is demonstrating a level of competency and drive that has long been missing from the English team, this was a more than satisfactory unofficial start to England’s World Cup.