England 3–0 Ivory Coast
- England cruised to a 3–0 win over Ivory Coast in the first-ever meeting between the teams
- Harry Maguire was booed by a section of the England fans before helping the hosts to a comfortable win
Typical, Wilfried Zaha didn’t even play. After all the build-up about the Crystal Palace talisman becoming only the third player to ever play for and against England, he didn’t feature due to a hamstring strain. But Zaha was in the building where in 2013 he earned the second of two England caps, watching on as England comfortably saw off Ivory Coast.
Only Ben White retained his place in England’s starting lineup from the team that beat Switzerland on Saturday. Another experimental side, another slow start at Wembley as Ivory Coast comfortably played round England’s early press in the first meeting between the teams.
But Declan Rice grabbed hold of the early stages of this game, just as he did the final half-hour of Saturday’s otherwise rusty display. He always wants the ball, and always uses it well when he gets it. His early shot was well blocked here, before a scrumptious one-two between Jude Bellingham and Raheem Sterling looked for all the world like it would end with Bellingham’s first England goal. His low strike hit goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangaré and then the post.Embed from Getty Images
England grew slowly, and went ahead through some brilliance by their captain. But that didn’t mean Harry Kane. He was only given 30 minutes here as Ollie Watkins was handed the chance to impress. And once stand-in captain Sterling had floored one defender and nutmegged another with an intelligent delivery, all Watkins had to do was apply the simplest of finishes to duly collect his second international goal.
The visitors became more physical once they’d fallen behind, engaging in niggles and tussles that earned them needless yellow cards. But a player on a yellow always runs the risk of getting another — and ex-Spurs right-back Serge Aurier was given his marching orders just 40 minutes in. The two incidents both looked harsh given this was a friendly, but Aurier had given referee Erik Lambrechts the option to adjudge his conduct unfriendly. Indeed he did, and Côte d’Ivoire’s captain was off.
Within five minutes, England made their man advantage pay by doubling their score advantage. Sterling ran into the box with purpose from a deft Watkins lay-off, forcing Sangaré into a decent save. The keeper’s stop fell for Jack Grealish — who, all things considered, had a frustrating night of it. But here he made the right choice, delivering with a single touch for Sterling to convert for his 19th England goal. The two added minutes took care of themselves and England were two up and flying at the break.Embed from Getty Images
Southgate told EnglandFootball.org on Monday that “tactical adaptation is important”, but stressed that the top club sides still all buy in to a single set of “basic principles.” England made a 3-5-2 formation work for them at the 2018 World Cup but ditched it soon after. They tried that against the Swiss and failed to make it work, but playing their favoured 4-2-3-1 formation here, England always felt in control of this game. If the club game is about well-rehearsed routines, international football is certainly about control. For exhibit A of how it’s done, see England’s group-stage matches at last summer’s Euros.
Ivory Coast, their first non-European opponents since November 2018, so nearly made a nightmarish start to the second period when half-time substitute Fousseny Coulibaly felled Bellingham for a penalty 48 seconds after the restart. But the referee plodded over to his VAR monitor and rightly decided the defender had won the ball.
Control is great and all that, but it does sometimes leave little to talk about. Gareth Southgate will have loved the way his side passed between each other comfortably, never giving the visitors a look-in — but only because his side were two to the good. Fans felt instead that this was prime paper aeroplane opportunity. After a while, Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse got a little fed up and unleashed a fizzing drive that scraped the roof of the net on its way just over.Embed from Getty Images
This might not have been the Ivory Coast of Didier Drogba and the Touré brothers, but you felt they’d put goalkeeper-on-the-night Nick Pope under pressure at some point. Well, they did and they didn’t. Centre-back Simon Deli wound up to volley home an Ivorian free kick in the 77th minute, but got it all wrong and blazed over. The anguish on his face told of a match he knew was already out of sight.
It certainly was when Tyrone Mings crashed a header down into the ground and into the net with ten seconds of stoppage time remaining. Some welcome gloss on the scoreline, and a goal for one of England’s two centre-backs, both of whom have had their positions in this squad scrutinised from just about every corner this month. Mings came up with a goal as response of a sort to his critics. Oh how Harry Maguire could have done with one too. That said, the booing of Maguire by a section of the home fans before he’d even kicked a ball was unfair and counterproductive. No one performs better in those conditions. Maguire had a decent night stepping out from the back for England, and Southgate called the booing “an absolute joke”.
It’s been a strange international break in many respects. In terms of matters on the pitch for England, it hasn’t left anyone with a great deal to discuss. But, as with control, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. For a start, it implies they won both matches. And of course they did. 3–0 here and never really in doubt.