England 2-1 Nigeria: Spurs striker Harry Kane scores Three Lions winner before Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi hits Super Eagles consolation
PUBLISHED: 19:22 02 June 2018 | UPDATED: 20:45 02 June 2018
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England beat Nigeria 2-1 with goals from Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Tottenham’s Harry Kane followed by a consolation from Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi in a friendly ahead of the World Cup at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
The welcome victory for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions’ came in their penultimate warm-up match before the global jamboree in Russia starts on June 14.
Three million people may have pre-ordered Nigeria replica shirts, according to the Nigeria Football Federation – while London’s Oxford Street witnessed long queues outside Nike’s flagship store on Friday as football fans attempted to purchase the prized kit – but Nigeria also offered attractive promise on the pitch too.
You could argue it was the distinctive green-and-white patterned design that made the strip so popular – but the form of the Super Eagles commanded respect ahead of the meeting in the capital – most notably in a 4-2 demolition of familiar World Cup foes Argentina.
The Argentines may have been without Lionel Messi in that unexpected defeat in Krasnodar last year – which saw Iwobi score – but the west Africans showed purpose and motivation in the friendly – taking that form into the match with an energetic display at the home of English football, while also warming up for their fifth meeting with the South Americans in their sixth World Cup.
Manchester United defender Phil Jones was absent from Friday’s training session to attend the birth of his daughter and was not involved in the match.
Boss Southgate confirmed United forward Jesse Lingard would start against the Super Eagles.
Lingard, 25, who notched 13 goals for Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils this term, was given the nod over club-mate Marcus Rashford in the bid to lead the England attack in their opening World Cup fixture against Tunisia on Monday, 18 June.
The visiting players may have relaxed prior to kick-off by having a sing-song round the piano but it was Southgate’s England who hit the right notes early on.
In the sixth minute Kieran Trippier flighted over a free-kick which goalkeeper Francis Uzoho did well to palm round his left-hand post.
The resulting corner saw Chelsea defender Gary Cahill escape the attentions of former Dutch youth international William Troost-Ekong and his former Stamford Bridge colleague John Obi Mikel to emphatically head home sixty seconds later.
That the goal came from Trippier’s corner suggests Southgate is expecting a lot from the talented Spurs defender, certainly more than just mere defending.
When the England coach talks of a single ‘pivot’ in midfield – in this case Dier – in front of his preferred backline of three defenders – John Stones central with Kyle Walker on the right with Cahill on the left, the formation allows attack-minded, technically sound defenders to excel further forward.
Which is exactly what Tottenham’s Tripper did early on. Ostensibly a right-wing back he could also have been described as an outside-right in old money, who has also been tasked with taking vital dead-ball situations along his flank – a trick that worked a treat for the goal.
On 14 minutes Raheem Sterling got in behind Bursapor’s 24-year-old-year-old Troost-Ekong after an excellent slide-rule pass from Dele Alli.
Sterling, who grew up in the tough Stonebridge Park estate only a goal kick from Wembley Stadium, may have had a gun tattooed on his leg but his aim was marginally awry as his instinctive, lifted effort flew inches past the target.
It was certainly an introduction to remember for Nigeria’s raw teenage keeper Uzoho who emerged as the No1 choice after Carl Ikeme had to stop playing after being stricken with cancer.
The Deportivo La Coruna netminder was called into action again on the half hour, alert to blocking Alli’s close-range shot after a neat ball inside from Linguard.
With six minutes to go until the interval Uzoho then blocked the lively Sterling’s cross-cum-shot at the near post.
Nigeria - who are in a group with Argentina, Croatia and Iceland – are led by by the experienced Gernot Rohr.
The 64-year-old former Bayern Munich player who spent 12 years at Bordeaux – losing the 1996 UEFA Cup Final, ironically, to the Bundesliga giants – was a surprise appointment by Nigeria in August 2016 that proved to be hugely successful.
His peripatetic wanderings after his time in France saw him first coach in Africa a decade ago in Tunisia with Etoile Sahel, before he took charge of Gabon when they hosted the 2012 African Nations Cup.
He took ANC to the finals the next year and also had a brief spell in charge of Bukino Faso – so it was no shock to see the wily campaigner, lured from the German Federation two years ago, to make such a bold decision as opting for an untested 19-year-old to play in goal for the Super Eagles at the home of English football.
Uzoho showed a youthful exuberance in front of the increasingly vociferous 6,000 Nigerian fans, by cleanly punching away an Ashley Young corner and closing down space in pressurising Sterling to fire over moments before the break.
However, he showed his inexperience on the big stage six minutes before half-time after Kane fired home to make it 2-0.
The Tottenham forward exchanged passes with Sterling before unleashing a low but saveable shot. You had to feel for the teenage Uzoho, who could have perhaps done better in blocking the drive, because up to that point he was having a solid game.
No wonder Rohr said he would leave it until a week before the Croatia game in Kalinigrad before he decides who his first choice shot-stopper will be in Russia.
If Nigeria are to match the best African achievement in a World Cup of a quarter-final place that Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 achieved then one wishes the German – and the goalkeeper he will choose as first choice - well this summer.
England, for their part looked solid at the back and threatening up front as the Italian referee Marco Guida blew for the break – which is not something you could always level at the national side going into a tournament.
Yet it was the visitors who started the second period in lively fashion two minutes after the restart.
Forward Odio Ighalo – who plays for Changchun Yatai in China – worked himself space in the box before shooting across Jordan Pickford, only to strike the right-hand post of the Everton keeper.
The England defence made the mistake of thinking the danger was over but Arsenal’s Iwobi – for so long a disappointing and underachieving presence for the North Londoners as he failed to build on a dynamic introduction to the first team two years ago – wrong-footed Pickford with his follow-up shot as the ball flew into the net to make it 2-1.
It was no more than the Super Eagles deserved after their hard work – nor their wonderfully exuberant supporters packed behind the end Iwobi scored at in an impressive early June crowd of 70.025.
A flurry of substitutions impacted on the tempo of the match as the game slid into a summer kickabout – but both managers will have learned an awful lot from this friendly ahead of the World Cup.
For Southgate’s England the real work starts now in attempting to muster his inexperienced squad into a side that can perform creditably in Russia – because even on today’s intermittently sprightly showing the nation can expect no more than that.