Callum Wilson earns England debut goal against USA in Wayne Rooney’s final hurrah

England 3-0 USA: Wilson's late third wrapped up the game after eye-catching first-half strikes from Jesse Lingard and Trent Alexander-Arnold

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Wembley Stadium
Thursday 15 November 2018 22:40 GMT
Gareth Southgate speaks press after 3-0 win over USA at Wembley

This match was billed as a tribute to England’s past but what will stay in the memory longest were the glimpses of their glistening future.

This was not much of a football contest, but all the best football came in the hour of throat-clearing before Wayne Rooney came on. For once at Wembley, the support acts put on a better show than the headliner.

Of course the emotional focus of the night was all about Rooney. He got all of the applause and the love and respect that he deserved, before the game, when he came on and when he did a lap of the pitch at the end. And it was right that he got that, as the greatest English player of his generation. Rooney’s presence enhanced this evening, it did not diminish or devalue it.

And yet the 30 minutes when he was on the pitch was the least interesting part of the night. In a game that had almost slowed to walking pace by then, he jogged around much like the late-era Rooney we saw in his last few years in England. It felt as if everyone in the stadium was willing him to score, but it was not to be. Although when he made himself space to shoot with his right food in added time it felt as if he would, only for Brad Guzan to dive well to save.

That would have made sense of the whole evening, but instead we were left with a lower-key, selfless Rooney instead, the Rooney we have seen throughout this decade. The best moments of his cameo came in service to the team: a flick to Marcus Rashford, a chip to Trent Alexander-Arnold, a long ball to Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He even tracked one fast DeAndre Yedlin run all the way back into the England box. Without that crowning goal, it was his presence on the pitch, rather than anything he did on it, that mattered the most.

Southgate had insisted beforehand that he would only bring Rooney one once he had learned everything he needed to learn from this game. Which is for the best because once Rooney was on the pitch, he became the only focal point of the whole occasion. Every touch was cheered, and when everyone in the stadium only cares about one player then the game ceases to be football in quite the same way. That is why it was the football England played in the first hour, when they raced into a 2-0 lead, that meant the most.

Trent Alexander-Arnold impressed at right-back (Reuters)

This was the football that Rooney used to play, at his Manchester United peak at least 10 years ago. Fast, incisive, imaginative, England started to cut through a United States side who could hardly have made it easier for them. Almost every time England went forward they were through on goal, and what it lacked in competitive tension it made up for in low-stakes entertainment.

It helped that Southgate was able to pick Jadon Sancho, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard as his creative three causing havoc behind Callum Wilson up front. With Ben Chilwell and Trent Alexander-Arnold stretching the play wide, those three could tuck inside, swap positions and ask the US defenders to solve problems they had barely been presented with before.

Callum Wilson was brought down in the first half (AFP/Getty Images)

England had enough chances to take the lead, and should have had a penalty when Wilson was tripped by Brad Guzan. But it did not matter, and soon after they swept into the lead with a goal that was far more satisfying. Alli and Chilwell combined down the left to tee up Lingard, in just enough space on the edge of the box. One touch to set himself, the second to curl the ball over the goalkeeper’s dive, into the far top corner of the goal. Anyone who remembers Lingard’s goal against Panama in Nizhy Novgorod would be familiar with its arc. Guzan was not.

The second goal straight after was almost as good. Alli and Wilson were squeezed for space in the box but Sancho was good enough that he could take a touch and take his time rather than being rushed. He knew Alexander-Arnold was bounding forward on the overlap, which is more than Jorge Villafana and Timothy Weah had figured out. Sancho’s timing was perfect and Alexander-Arnold smacked the ball in.

Wayne Rooney came on for the final half-an-hour (Getty)

If there was any curiosity about how this game would end, it did not survive those two quick goals. The US had one good chance, when Christian Pulisic raced through but was blocked by Jordan Pickford bursting off his line. But that was almost their only attack and they barely threatened in the second half.

Soon enough the only question was when Rooney came on, and when he did, whether he would score or not. England did grab a third goal, as Wilson got on the end of Fabian Delph’s cross from the left to tuck in the ball at the near post. While fans were delighted for Wilson, and how much it meant to him, he was not the man they would have chosen to score.

England (4-2-3-1) Pickford (McCarthy, 45); Alexander-Arnold, Keane, Dunk, Chilwell (Dier, 58); Delph, Winks (Loftus-Cheek, 69); Sancho, Alli (Henderson, 58), Lingard (Rooney 58); Wilson (Rashford, 78).

USA (4-2-3-1) Guzan; Yedlin, Miazga, Brooks, Villafana; Trapp (Acosta, 69), McKennie (Lletget, 75); Pulisic, Green (Adams, 62), Weah (Saief, 75); Wood.

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