GARY AND HARRY HELP ENGLAND HOLD ON
It truly was a game of two halves at Wembley, as England saw off Nigeria 2-1. The returning Gary Cahill and captain Harry Kane scored first-half goals to put Gareth Southgate’s men two up. Nigeria came back though, with Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi scoring straight after the interval. From there It was a gritty, bitty road to the end.
England manager Gareth Southgate kept faith with in-the-news Raheem Sterling, as the Manchester City man started at Wembley. Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard were both called upon in midfield, whilst Gary Cahill returned for England – recalled after a good end to the season at Chelsea. Nigeria’s boss Gernot Rohr, now managing his fourth African nation, handed Premier League midfielders Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi starts. Brighton’s new signing Leon Balogun began in defence.
After an observed silence in remembrance of the late Rays, Wilson and Wilkins, the match kicked off. England started very brightly and, despite finding lots of space in open play, first came close when Kieran Trippier’s freekick stung the palms of goalkeeper Francis Uzoho. Trippier took the following corner, which Gary Cahill powered into the top right corner of the net. The Chelsea defender wheeled away in celebration of his fifth England goal. It’s the kind of involvement that may help him stake a claim to a starting berth in that all-important opener against Tunisia.
The Three Lions kept up the pressure on a so-far poor Nigeria side as Eric Dier’s saved header was almost tapped home by John Stones. Uzoho gathered, and it remained 1-0. Raheem Sterling clipped just wide, before Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard both had efforts smothered from close in. Sterling then found the gloves of Francis Uzoho himself, before firing narrowly over just minutes later.
Gareth Southgate’s side edged closer to half-time, but they showed no signs of lowering the tempo. Eric Dier found Harry Kane in a manned counter-attack, before the Spurs striker found a pass of his own – to Sterling. City’s Sterling checked back and found Kane once more. Tottenham and England’s main man took one touch to tee himself up, before firing low into the bottom corner, from outside the box. On second viewing, the ball had gone in off the diving goalkeeper’s thigh. Uzoho should have done better, but Kane can do nothing more than take his chances ahead of his first World Cup. Victor Moses tested the gloves of Jordan Pickford next, but England celebrated a much deserved 2-0 lead at the break.
Gernot Rohr was forced into some considerable changes as play resumed. He converted Nigeria to three at the back, in an attempt to face up to England. Four changes took place, including the introduction of Chelsea player Kenneth Omeruo. The Three Lions remained unchanged. It took the new-look Nigeria only two minutes to find an immediate response from the break. Iwobi clipped the ball forward to former Watford star Odion Ighalo, who volleyed against the post. The ball fell kindly for Alex Iwobi, who side-footed home. Nigeria had started the second-half a completely different team. Their invigorated outlook never seemed to wear off.
Raheem Sterling was booked for diving next – adjudged to have initiated contact with Francis Uzoho. Nigeria’s goalkeeper is six-foot-five at only nineteen years of age. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fabian Delph were two of five substitutes for Gareth Southgate, whilst Nigeria, in their new sold-out World Cup kit, introduced Premier League forwards Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho. John Obi Mikel and Eric Dier both missed chances for their respective sides, whilst England subs Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck looked to have lost their shooting boots, too. Rashford’s header over the bar from a Delph clipped ball was about as close as England came to causing Nigeria any problems in the latter stages of the affair.
The celebrations of England’s victory were rather muted at fulltime. So often The Three Lions play miles better in the second period. The opposite had been true here. England will round up their tournament preparations in Leeds on Friday. They will go into that match with Costa Rica on the back of an overall deserved victory, here. It ended England 2-1 Nigeria, at Wembley.