It is dangerous to read too much into one game of football and even more so when it is the first of three meaningless friendlies played ahead of a major international tournament. England’s 3-0 victory over Peru’s kids was just the first rehearsal and it was evident that many of the squad are still learning their lines. They can only be truly judged as a unit on their performances in Brazil.
Even though the core of the team has been together for some time, the work they will have done in the last week means that to them this feels like a new beginning, a fresh slate. No-one can expect a perfect team performance in these circumstances, only one from which it is possible to learn and to improve – and that is what they produced.
England manager Roy Hodgson had named what was on paper a strong starting eleven, with only Danny Welbeck’s selection ahead of Raheem Sterling raising eyebrows. Man of the moment Adam Lallana started on the right, while Daniel Sturridge got the centre-forward role he has craved. It was all very promising – which made the uninspiring display they produced all the more vexing.
Truth be told, Peru looked the better side for long periods and Luis Ramírez, André Carrillo and Jean Deza all caught the eye, happy to take the ball in tight areas and unafraid of trying the spectacular. They created the better opportunities in the first half before predictably folding in the second.
Granted, it was part of England’s plan to let Peru have the ball and then gather in front of them – the aim was clearly to treat the unheralded and unexperienced visitors to Wembley as they would Italy or Uruguay and go through the motions in preparation for those opponents, and they largely did the job of provoking mistakes very well – but what the hosts did when they had possession was almost uniformly awful.
The angles made were unimaginative, the passing combinations forced and almost every attacking move fizzled out as soon as it entered the final third. From the first whistle, basic mistakes littered England’s play. Straight from kick-off Jordan Henderson lost the ball and made a foul trying to get it back; twice in the first seven minutes Welbeck turned the ball over under little pressure; in the eighth an already frustrated Daniel Sturridge killed an England attack by trying a very unwise flick facing away from goal on the right flank.
Too many players sought the ball in deep areas and then did nothing with it. Gerrard and Henderson, presumably the duo that will play in midfield in Manaus on June 14, did a good job of screening the defence and retaining the ball but barely constructed anything when it was at their feet, constantly knocking it back to Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill. Their conservatism kept the ball too far from the players that really wanted it. Far from Tom Cleverley being absent, it looked as though he had been cloned.
A popular talking point before the game was whether or not Wayne Rooney’s recent performances at club level should earn him a place in the national team. As regular readers will know, this writer is no fan of Rooney’s but even his most ardent supporters would struggle to deny that his display was anything other than abject.
The opening twenty minutes was everything wrong with Rooney’s game in a nutshell: hopeless cross-field passes that just begged to be cut out, telegraphed flicks and layoffs to defenders only too happy to intercept and first touches that landed yards away in no man’s land.
By the eighteenth minute, he had become frustrated and was taking the ball on the halfway line, finding a red mass in front of him and blocking any advance. Nonetheless, he tried to play his way through with one pass and within seconds the Peruvians were bearing down on Joe Hart’s goal. It took a smart interception from the Manchester City goalkeeper to keep the scores level.
Admittedly, Rooney had a better start to the second half, combining on several occasions with Adam Lallana to find useful positions and keep the ball in areas that England had not exploited enough in the first forty-five, but still produced nothing of real import. It was no surprise to see Sterling replace him with just under half an hour to go, and if he produces replicas of this performance in the next two warm-up games it will be hard to find anyone who would include him in their line-up for the first World Cup group game.
It will not just be Sterling in the reckoning to replace him, either. Ross Barkley’s cameo contained some nice touches and the positions he took up were much more promising than those taken by Rooney. Even James Milner, who for some reason exists purely as a workaholic dullard in the eyes of many, showed more as a seeker of space and a puller of strings in the seventeen minutes that he played, even if the game was comfortably won by then.
Yes, amidst all this pedantic fretting it is easy to forget that England won the game by three goals. The victory was secured by a spectacular finish from Sturridge and two somewhat embarrassing goals from corners that would not have been scored had Peru’s defenders not obstructed their own goalkeeper. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will not be complaining, however, and Leighton Baines’ delivery for England’s second goal was as good as anything Steven Gerrard produced for England at Euro 2012.
Set pieces have always been England’s primary source of goals at major finals, with – off the top of my head – Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Matthew Upson and Joleon Lescott all having scored directly or indirectly from them since the turn of the millennium. On tonight’s evidence, it will continue to be that way. They will certainly not be troubling Italy or Uruguay with Rooney orchestrating the attack in open play.