World Cup 2014: Ross Barkley presses his claim as Adam Lallana misses a trick
Southampton striker has an off-night as England attack misfires
Sunday 08 June 2014
Perhaps the elements were uncomfortable with a flash of England’s promising interplay in the final third.
Merely seconds after Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge combined brilliantly to carve Honduras open and create a chance the latter fluffed, referee Ricardo Salazar called a halt to proceedings.
Welbeck had fed Rooney on the right before dummying the return ball so Sturridge could spin and shoot from the edge of the box. Honduras coach Luis Suarez – yes, seriously – looked on in admiration. The combination was too much for Suarez and company to handle.
For if the principal positive from Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against Ecuador was the attacking impetus generated by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, before injury, and Ross Barkley, this was the platform for Roy Hodgson’s premier front four to deliver their riposte in the final rehearsal before opening night.
Hodgson had hinted in the build-up that Raheem Sterling has not irreparably damaged his chance of starting against Italy despite missing this match due to an avoidable red card but the Liverpool midfielder’s enforced absence gave others an opportunity to enhance their case.
Welbeck and Rooney linked-up early on to force a fumbled save from goalkeeper Noel Valladares before the moment that prompted the weather and the match officials to intervene.
The 45-minute delay interrupted England’s rhythm for although they continued to dictate proceedings, it was only when Barkley and Jack Wilshere were introduced at half time that Hodgson’s side rediscovered their spark.
If Barkley and Sterling have genuine chances of forcing their way into Hodgson’s first-choice eleven – and the evidence for the former is growing with each day – then perhaps Adam Lallana is the most vulnerable.
He was a peripheral figure here, only registering an influence when fouling Roger Espinoza midway through the second period, and the raw pace of Sterling felt like an appealing alternative. Certainly if the Liverpool winger’s training performances continue to prompt Hodgson (right) into using words like “unstoppable” and “breathtaking” as he did last week, Sterling’s case could become overwhelming.
The argument in favour of Barkley is following a similar trajectory. England began the second period rejuvenated by the presence of the Everton midfielder, who almost immediately tried his luck with a curling effort from 25 yards.
He then fed Sturridge, who wasted a promising opening by chipping the ball over the bar before Honduras defender Victor Bernardez was forced to deny Barkley after another sweeping move involving Welbeck and Wilshere.
Noticeably, England were not weakened by Rooney’s withdrawal. With Sturridge heading Glen Johnson’s 73rd-minute cross over the bar to complete a profligate evening from the man leading the chase to lead the line in Brazil, the lines between first-choice and backup alternatives seem blurred.
England had endure robust and over-zealous tackles but they were unable to break down Honduras despite playing the final 25 minutes against ten men.
Welbeck was industrious on the left. His pace and agility will be useful in the humidity of Manaus but if Sturridge is not firing and Rooney remains below his best, England could lack the clinical touch needed in front of goal in Group D campaign.
Barkley and Wilshere did their best to generate some intricate build-up play around a heavily-guarded Honduras penalty area – Welbeck stabbed one effort towards goal which forced Valladares into a save – but although England continued to come forward in search of a breakthrough, the South Americans were hardly desperate in their defending.
The temperature was higher than against Ecuador, there were more fans inside the ground and with combative nature of the game, this felt a step closer to the real thing.
Hodgson was at pains to underline the folly in drawing definitive conclusions from warm-up matches; England’s front four certainly did not provide any conclusive answers.
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