England coasts past Peru as Wembley bids bon voyage to the Three Lions
MAY 30, 2014 4:58p ET
As send-offs go, this was probably as by the book as the England manager Roy Hodgson could have wished for. At a relaxed Wembley, his side without ever really extending itself was a comfortable 3-0 winner over Peru. Nobody got injured, seventeen players got a run out and there was a general sense of shape and system coining together.
The only tactical question had been whether Hodgson would start with the loose 4-3-3 he had used against Denmark in March, when England won a scruffy game 1-0, or if he would revert to a more attacking 4-2-3-1. He opted for the latter, with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson holding, an aggressive system that seemed contrary to his supposedly conservative nature. Wayne Rooney, playing off Daniel Sturridge regularly dropped deep, foraging for possession and searching for space, qualities for which he gets remarkably little credit given how adept he is at them.
Although Adam Lallana, making his first England start, didn't seem entirely comfortable in a role wide on the right, the inter-movement of the forward seemed more fluid than it had been against Denmark. Then again, it could be argued that the system, a 4-3-3 with Jack Wilshere pushing forward from midfield, would become slicker with practice. It may be that Hodgson, who has friendlies coming up in Miami against Ecuador and Honduras, saw this game as primarily practice for Costa Rica, another side who pack men behind the ball and break at pace, and that he foresees England using the more attacking shape against the theoretically weakest opponent in the group.
In a sense, the main aim of such exercises is primarily to get through without injury -- and England at least achieved that, despite one hefty challenge from behind on Gerrard from Rinaldo Cruzado. Generally, though, it was a game of little drama: there was mild competence, some neat intermovement, and not a huge amount in the way of explosive creativity.
The fans -- 83,500 of them -- entertained themselves by folding the cards with which they had made a mosaic of the St. George cross before kickoff into paper airplane and throwing them at the pitch. One in the first half drifted from behind the Peruvian goal full 35 yards onto the pitch; as the engineering improved, one in the second half traveled on a slowly downward trajectory form the top tier to win five yards of completing the entire length of the pitch. The goals aside, the biggest cheer of the night came when a plane drifted down from old tunnel end and, with seemingly the whole crowd aware what was about to happen ad holding its collective breath, tagged the unsuspecting Peru substitute Hansell Riojas in the back. And when they'd done with that, there came round after round of gleeful Olympic waves. The atmosphere was, if not festive, then certainly jovial, suggesting the extent to which Hodgson has made this England side likable, even if they face the longest odds to win the World Cup of any England team that has qualified in the past half century.
Sturridge looked sharp in the way he always does -- which is to say, not at all. He has a remarkable capacity to disguise his lethalness beneath a veneer of apathy, something that perhaps contributed to the sense his early coaches had of him as not caring enough. He had wandered and lolloped about when, after 19 minutes, Lallana, given an opportunity to run at the defense for the first time, was brushed off the ball and Sturridge pounced, hitting an instant shot on the turn just wide of the far post. The opening goal came 13 minutes later as he picked the ball up on the right side of the box, darted unexpectedly across the 18 yard line then whipped a shot into the top corner. Raul Fernandez, the Peruvian goalkeeper, was perhaps a touch slow to react, but that is part of what makes Sturridge so dangerous: he lures opponents in and then catches them unaware.
Two goals from corners midway through the second half made sure of the win. First Gary Cahill rose to power in a Leighton Baines delivery and then came a poor error from Fernandez, who caught the cross, only to clatter into Cahill. The referee Viktor Kassai ruled there had been no infringement and Phil Jagielka stabbed in the loose ball.
The only slight negative for England was Glen Johnson, who has already been highlighted by many as a potential weak link. It was he who dozed off just before halftime, staying back as the rest of the defense pushed up, and so playing Luis Ramirez onside. He was left clean through, but Joe Hart was out quickly and made an excellent block with his left leg. Then in the second half, with the score still at 1-0, Johnson conceded possession cheaply to Andre Carrillo, whose attempt to find Jean Deza in the box was thwarted only by Cahill's alertness on the cover.
That sort of sloppiness could be punished by better teams than Peru, but it made little difference on the right and, by the end, after Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling had come on, there was almost a swagger about England. But Hodgson boss will be fully aware of the significantly greater challenges which await in Brazil.
FOXSoccer.com's newswire services contributed to this report.