A Red Card For Sterling, A Red Flag For England?
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England and Ecuador drew 2-2 in a World Cup tune up for both nations in Miami on Wednesday afternoon. With around 21,500 people in attendance, England debuted an experimental lineup which lacked established stars such as captain Steven Gerrard, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, and Daniel Sturridge. England came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Wayne Rooney starting on the left wing, instead of his preferred spots either up front or right behind the striker. Even more bizarrely, James Milner started at right back instead of his usual place in midfield and struggled to adapt to his new role, as he was consistently out of position and turned the ball over several times at critical moments.
Despite starting off strong and dominating the action in the early going, England fell behind in the 8th minute when Enner Valencia smashed home a header from a perfect cross, past a helpless Ben Foster, in Ecuador’s first real chance at goal in the match. England equalized in the 29th minute when Wayne Rooney capitalized on the chaos that ensued following a cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who eventually left the game with an injury that England and Arsenal fans hope isn’t serious) to poke home England’s first goal.
After the break, England went ahead when forward and new Liverpool signee Rickie Lambert powered home a shot from the right side of the box. The goal was set up by a brilliant move from Everton youngster Ross Barkley, who juked the defender before leaving the ball for Lambert to finish. Ecuador’s substitute Michael Arroyo completed the scoring in the 70th minute with a bullet into the top corner of the net after Milner failed to close him down.
The match was marred in the 79th minute when England’s wunderkind Raheem Sterling committed a fairly reckless challenge on the sideline on Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United player did not take kindly to the challenge and immediately jumped up and grabbed the back of Sterling’s neck. When the dust settled, both Sterling and Valencia were shown red cards and the teams had to play the remaining 11+ minutes with ten men. Sterling will be suspended for England’s last friendly before the World Cup against Honduras, which for a man desperately seeking a spot in the starting 11, could prove devastating to his chances. Although the red card was undoubtedly harsh, England manager Roy Hodgson cannot have been impressed with Sterling's recklessness. Check it out below:
Overall, it is difficult to evaluate England based on this performance. Ecuador is considered one of the weaker squads that will travel to Brazil, with some pundits claiming that the only reason they were able to qualify was an extreme home field advantage due to the elevation of their home stadium (approximately 9,186 feet above sea level). As a result, a 2-2 draw against such a squad is not going to inspire hope among the England faithful with such a demanding group ahead of them.
Yet, with several of his star players out, Hodgson not only kept them rested and injury-free (especially important given the injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain), but was able to evaluate the other players on the squad, as well as established ones such as Rooney and Milner in new positions. Not everything went smoothly, but the results of these friendlies are less important than what the manager can discover and learn from them. With Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica in their group, England is going to have to play at an extremely high level in order to advance from the group stage. Whether Hodgson learned enough from this match to ensure the Three Lions advance remains to be seen.