Raheem Sterling stars as England cruise past 10-man Ivory Coast

England 3-0 Ivory Coast: Gareth Southgate’s side’s smooth progress towards the World Cup continued with a routine win to end the international break

Miguel Delaney
Wembley
Wednesday 30 March 2022 02:56
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England football: Tough games will prepare team for tournaments, Southgate says

A last match before the countdown to Qatar really begins, and a first ever win for England over Cote d’Ivoire.

Whether this 3-0 win actually influences any of Gareth Southgate’s thinking for the World Cup itself remains to be seen, but it is all part of building a bigger picture – especially with the international calendar much more disjointed.

The England manager on Wednesday jets off for his first major date, going to Doha for Friday’s World Cup draw.

There was enough to ponder, as he gave a core of reserve players starts here. It is at least possible that four of the players who started this game – Tyrick Mitchell, James Ward-Prowse, Ollie Watkins and maybe even Ben White – will not be at the World Cup.

All gave decent accounts, especially Mitchell, which is more than can be said for Cote d’Ivoire.

With a starting line-up filled with good talent, it was a wonder why they hadn’t qualified, particularly with Africa’s tense final play-offs happening at the same time as this game.

The game maybe offered a few reasons why the Ivorians missed out, especially when a player like Mohamed Salah will also.

They lack that real top quality, especially with Wilfried Zaha injured. For all Southgate’s intentions, though, it was the most noteworthy names that offered most of the notable occasions.

That was the case even before the match started, as Maguire’s name was repeatedly met with boos when read out for the announcement of the starting XIs. It was already cruel, and unfair given his consistently reliable displays for his country, but only escalated in the first few seconds. Maguire’s first touch was met with even more boos.

He did soon silence those giving him a hard time with one lovely touch, and it wasn’t too long until more of the crowd made a point of singing his name. That, to be fair, was partly down to some of the few people in the stadium even more divisive than the Manchester United captain. The England band are not exactly universally popular, but they did bring most of the supporters together for the Maguire chant, as they belted out the tune of ‘La Bamba’.

The centre-half is unsurprisingly known to see England as something of a refuge these days, and this was at least one of his easier nights in terms of challenges. Cote d’Ivoire, with Zaha out, barely had an attack. Maguire was able to stroll through the game. That wasn’t quite the case for the opposition defenders, who were far more aggressive.

Sterling was given some rather abrasive attention early on. Southgate’s captain was, of course, able to stand up to it. Well, more than that. He willingly ran at them, giving the Ivorian defence abrasive treatment of his own.

Ollie Watkins celebrates opening the scoring for England

The reality was they couldn’t live with him, especially for the opening goal. Sterling went one way and then the other, before swerving the most inviting ball across the six-yard box. Ollie Watkins couldn’t but finish.

It could have been his second, as Tyrick Mitchell had earlier played a similar ball after Jude Bellingham hit the post. That one just evaded the forward. This one didn’t, largely because Sterling continued to evade the Ivorian defence.

The frustration doubtless played a part in Serge Aurier’s second yellow card. At that moment, there was no doubt who the most unpopular individual in the stadium actually was, as the former Tottenham Hotspur full-back left the stadium to the sound of jeers and laughter. Jack Grealish, for his part, did seem to say to the referee that he should refrain from such a decision in a friendly.

England – and Sterling – didn’t let up in attacking, mind. Sterling quickly went straight for the Ivorian defence, forcing a brilliant stop from Badra Ali Sangare. The ball only went straight to Grealish, though, who cut it back for Sterling to finish first time.

That could have seen the game become a big win, but there were only a raft of changes rather than a raft of goals. Despite Southgate bringing on some of his biggest names, in Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Luke Shaw, the only remaining goal went to someone who usually stays much further back. Tyrone Mings went up for a stoppage-time corner and duly headed the ball down, and into the net.

It was far from the most consequential goal of the night, in what was one of the least consequential international games of the evening, but Southgate will doubtless have derived some meaning from it.

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