An exciting International Friendly between World Cup competitors, England and Ecuador, ended 2-2 , but the result will be overshadowed by an 80th minute bust-up that left both teams with 10 men. Roy Hodgson chose to field an experimental side and will have seen some positives, but the defense looked shambolic throughout the first-half.
Ecuador took the lead eight minutes into the game when Enner Valencia blasted his header past goalkeeper, Ben Foster, after James Milner, who started right-back, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to close down the cross and Valencia beat Chris Smalling in the air. Foster was left rooted to the spot by the header and England looked stunned. England had a lot of possession, but they failed to break the Ecuador defense down. Often, they would get the ball to the outside of the box, only to lose the ball and be put under pressure by quick counter-attacks because they did not close Ecuador down quickly enough.
Wayne Rooney, who started as the left-winger, has been subject of a lot of debate during this friendly period, but he was the man who leveled for England through a rather fortunate goal. In the 29th minute, the ball was crossed in and Rickie Lambert took it down, although he was unable to control it. There were suggestions of handball, but the referee did not see it. Lambert back-heeled the ball into the post and Rooney tapped it in from the resulting scramble. It certainly was not the prettiest goal, but it showed that Rooney was alive in the box, and ensured England went into half-time level.
England looked shaky in the first-half, but they started the second much better and took the lead six minutes in. Ross Barkley, one of England’s most exciting talents, took the ball on a slaloming run through the Ecuador defense before laying the ball off to Lambert, who hit the ball first time and blasted it past the Ecuadorian goalkeeper. It was a nice finish, but Barkley deserves the credit, he took on several defenders before playing a nice pass to Lambert. England’s lead lasted just 20 minutes before Michael Arroyo picked up Antonio Valencia’s pass on the top of the box, and rifled it past Foster. It was the best goal of the game and a deserved equalizer.
England started to tire in the Miami heat, which will be a concern of Hodgson’s considering the climate in Brazil. More concerning was the refereeing decision that saw Raheem Sterling and Antonio Valencia sent off in the 80th minute. Sterling went over the ball in a full-bodied challenge that made little contact with Valencia. In fact, the assistant referee only flagged for a throw-in, until Valencia reacted by grabbing Sterling’s throat. Valencia has suffered several broken ankles, and perhaps he thought that it was an overly aggressive challenge, but his reaction was over the top, especially as Ecuador’s captain. I was surprised to see either player sent off, Valencia reacted angrily, but not overly physically, and Sterling won the ball, albeit he did have his studs a little high.
Given that it was a friendly, I would have preferred to see the referee talk to them both, and maybe book them.
This is not a bad result for England, particularly considering they faced World Cup competition. They were playing in hot conditions and are still getting used to them. The biggest concern for Hodgson will be the defense, particularly Milner. He played poorly and was bullied by Ecuador’s wingers. Smalling didn’t have a great game either. He was beaten in the air
by Valencia for the first goal, and was caught out of position a couple times, unnecessarily playing opposition forwards onside. In the second-half, England looked a lot more threatening offensively, and the young players Hodgson selected played well. Barkley stole the show and should definitely be starting in Brazil.