England 3 Peru 0: No dark thoughts for Hodgson as warm-up acts pass auditions

 

England’s most significant pre-World Cup warm-up was in 1998, when Paul Gascoigne’s distracted performance against Belgium in Casablanca cost him a place in the finals, ended his England career, and led to his infamous trashing of Glenn Hoddle’s hotel room to the backdrop of Kenny G.

Having been late for the team bus, he then missed part of Hoddle’s pre-match instruction as he was on his phone in the middle of the pitch. Hoddle later wrote: “At that moment I began to started to seriously doubt he could do a job for us in France. Physically he wasn’t 100 per cent, mentally he was all over the place. I sat opposite in the dressing room thinking, ‘This is a big game for you, son, a very big game’.”

It is a safe bet Roy Hodgson was not sitting in the Wembley dressing room last night harbouring similarly dark thoughts about one of his players, but it was nevertheless a big night for several of them.

Hodgson went into this match insisting places were up for grabs, and no one, including himself, knew what his starting line-up would be against Italy. Most, however, expected it would look quite a lot like the XI who lined up at kick-off last night.

Some places, however, are there for the seizing, with Hodgson identifying Steven Gerrard’s midfield support as the area likely to be most debated when he sits down with Gary Neville and Ray Lewington to select his team for Manaus on 14 June.

 

Last night Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck were given a first shot at nailing down a place. Later, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, James Milner and Ross Barkley came off the bench. That everyone in contention except Frank Lampard was given a run indicated Hodgson was telling the truth.

The starting trio had the best chance to show off their credentials. With Hodgson deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, Henderson partnered his Liverpool team-mate Gerrard in the anchor roles while Welbeck and Lallana began on the left and right flanks. Neither, though, had to hug the wing and Welbeck, especially, came inside, at times swapping with Sturridge to be the front man.

It was when drifting in that Welbeck first threatened, linking neatly with Leighton Baines only to be hauled down. Then Lallana took a turn, bursting through the defensive cover and causing enough defensive confusion for Sturridge to be presented with a chance he snatched at.

However, neither showed much inclination to go beyond Peru’s deep defence in the way a young Lampard would have. Lallana again showed what good feet he has, looking very comfortable in possession. He did, though, have a tendency to dwell on the ball and play safe with passes when it could have been played quicker, and longer. Welbeck’s ability to run with the ball was shown again, though with little end product on this occasion.

Henderson had less opportunity to shine, being the water-carrier to Gerrard’s quarter-back. But it is a job someone has to do and his energy levels, and positional discipline, make him a strong candidate for the role in the Amazon.

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Steven Gerrard of England congratulates Daniel Sturridge of England on scoring the opening goal (Getty Images)

Wilshere was added to the fray in the 64th minute, Sterling a minute later. Sterling, intriguingly, played in the hole, where he shone late in the season for Liverpool, while Wilshere partnered Henderson. The effect of Sterling’s pace was instant. England were immediately prepared to play longer. Henderson, who had been loath to do so before, quickly sent a ball over the top for his team-mate to run on to.

When Milner came on for Lallana the contrast between the latter’s elegance and Milner’s more yeoman qualities was stark, but there are times when Hodgson will want his steady Eddie. Manaus could be one of them.

Finally Barkley appeared. He went in the hole, Sterling to the left. The pair had time enough to for some interplay, which finished with Sterling curling an adventurous shot just wide.

Suddenly England looked young and vibrant and the impressively large crowd were infused with optimism.

Down on the bench the old man of the squad, Lampard, bided his time. While England had played well, and all the young pretenders had done OK, none had delivered a performance that screamed “I must play”.

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Andre Carrillo of Peru is closed down by Leighton Baines and Jordan Henderson of England during the international friendly match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium (Getty Images)

The veteran has been around long enough to know much can change when the real action starts. In 1986 Mark Hateley played himself into the team with his goals in the warm-ups, but was replaced in Mexico by Peter Beardsley after England started the finals badly.

Twenty years on the warm-up performances of a young Owen Hargreaves earned him a place in the team while Trevor Sinclair, then on stand-by, felt himself so out of his depth he asked to fly back to England. But 19 minutes into the second World Cup tie, against Argentina, Hargreaves was injured. Sinclair, having been recalled to Asia after Danny Murphy was injured, replaced him and went on to have a good tournament.

Some succour then, in history, for any England midfielder feeling this morning that their chances of starting in Manaus are drifting away.

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