PORTUGAL PIPPED BY INSIPID ENGLAND
England defeated Portugal for the first time in eighteen years in a rather dull encounter at Wembley. The Three Lions’ first clean-sheet in 2016 turned into their third win in a row as Chris Smalling headed past Rui Patrício with just minutes remaining. They travel to Euro 2016 on the back of three wins in a row.
Roy Hodgson said he was disappointed that Cristiano Ronaldo was being given a rest for the match against England, as the Three Lions’ manager had wanted to use the match as a potential audition for the quality that England will face in the form of Welshman Gareth Bale. Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli all started for England.
It was a long while before the match really got going, but it suddenly did when Kyle Walker picked up the ball from goalkeeper Rui Patrício’s clearance. He passed to Kane. The Tottenham forward played a cute ball into Rooney, although after the Patrício had saved well, the whistle blew and the England skipper was adjudged to be offside. Walker and Rooney were again in the thick of the action a few minutes later: the forward headering into keeper’s hands from a lovely Walker cross. Former Chelsea centre-back Ricardo Carvalho sent a header over from a free-kick for Portugal before England had another chance. Dele Alli had found left-back Danny Rose before he, in return, found Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United man’s pass out wide was blocked straight into the path of Walker, who drove a volley of formidable force whistling just past Patrício’s post. In was on thirty-five minutes that the referee made a controversial call. As the ball broke through to Kane, Bruno Alves, the thirty-four year-old right-back kicked Kane straight in the face, with his eyes admittedly on the ball. The referee had no hesitation before dismissing the high-flying veteran. Portugal were down to ten men. Kane shot tamely into the arms of the keeper after a good move from England to end the half.
The first chance of the second period fell to an England substitute. After an interchange between Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge, on from the bench, hit a snap-shot from just outside the box. It span just wide, but England were regaining their control of the match. Young star Renato Sanches found Ricardo Quaresma on a run down the wing – a potential counter attack for the Portuguese. As he cut inside, Quaresma outlined just how easy it still is to get a shot away against this England side, whipping the ball meanly, but just wide of Joe Hart’s far post.
England had a central free-kick from about forty yards next. Walker sent the ball spinning into the box, and Chris Smalling’s pressure on the goalkeeper led to him having to punch clear. Jack Wilshere recycled the ball, finding another substitute, Raheem Sterling, unmarked on the left wing. The Manchester City winger pushed the ball back in order to cross with his favoured right foot. The ball into the box was brilliant from Sterling, and there to attack it was Smalling, who looped the ball downwards and into the inside netting. Patrício dived but could not reach it, and England belatedly had lift off: after eighty-six minutes. The Manchester United centre-back celebrated his first international goal, in his twenty-fifth cap. The Three Lions held on to a dull, yet deserved victory over Portugal – without Ronaldo, after thirty-five minutes, without Bruno Alves too. It ended England 1-0 Portugal at Wembley. Next up: England’s first match at Euro 2016 – against Russia, at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.