LONDON: England have one more friendly to play before flying to Russia. They face Costa Rica in Leeds on Thursday after having defeated fellow World Cup finalists at Nigeria at Wembley in front of a confused 70 000 crowd.
Manager Gareth Southgate had cautioned that his line-up should not be considered the likely starting team against Tunisia in June 18 on Volgograd. This, in the aftermath of Saturday, is both good news and bad news.
England dominated the first half against a Nigeria playing at only 40pc of their potential. Southgate was disappointed that England were rewarded only with two goals from Gary Cahill and Harry Kane. They should have killed the game by half-time.
Instead Nigeria made four substitutions, changed tactical shape, raised the tempo and pulled a goal back almost immediately through Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi. The game subsequently fell apart through a mixture of Nigeria’s improvement, England’s deterioration and the fragmenting effect of multiple substitutions by both managers.
Southgate said: “I was pleased with the first half. There was a lot of unselfish play, we won the ball back quickly and played from the back with good composure. That was as good a half as we have had but in the second half we were a bit slow to react.
“We can improve on what we did – that five or six-minute spell could be enough to put you out of a tournament – but we were more of a threat on goal than in any of our previous matches.”
Jordan Pickford is ever more secure as No1 goalkeeper but John Stones was sloppy in the centre of defence. Cahill played alongside him in the back three only because of injury to Harry Maguire. But Maguire’s recovery may threaten Stones more than the Chelsea captain.
Kieran Tripper and Ashley Young command the wingback roles and Southgate’s game-by-game strategy will decide whether he plays two defensive midfielders or one. Eric Dier was tidy against Nigeria in the absence of Jordan Henderson, rested after hs exertions for Liverpool in the Champions League Final defeat in Kiev.
The main problem in attack is Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City scored 18 goals in the new champions’ title-winning campaign but has proved a disruptive force.
Firstly came controversy over a new tattoo on his right leg of an assault rifle. Sterling described it as a protest against a gun violence because he was only two years old when his father had been murdered in Jamaica. However the issue raised the sort of media storm which England do not need ahead of a major tournament.
Secondly Sterling angered Southgate by returning a day late from a break in the United States. He admitted after the Nigeria game that he was fortunate not to have been dropped for the match.
Sterling played but not well enough. He helped set up Kane’s goal but wasted chances of his own and has not scored a goal for England for three years. It is long overdue time he fulfilled his international potential.