England - Nigeria: World Cup 2018 friendly match, live!
Do not miss the live coverage of the England National Team vs Nigeria Super Eagles that visit Wembley Stadium to take on England in a World-Cup warm-up, kick-off at 18:15 CEST
A win is a win, the old adage goes, but there was little to pique the optimism of England fans ahead of the World Cup in Russia as Gareth Southgate’s side laboured to a 2-1 victory over Nigeria at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening.
The home side came out of the blocks quickly enough in front of a sparse crowd in London, capitalizing on the Super Eagles’ early defensive disarray through Gary Cahill’s bullet header after just seven minutes and it appeared the Three Lions were in for a comfortable evening when Harry Kane doubled their lead just before half-time with a shot that 19-year-old Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho was unfortunate to see ricochet off his thigh and into the back of the net.
The 19-year-old Deportivo B keeper, who has made only two senior appearances at club level, appears to have sealed his place in Gernot Rohr’s World Cup starting XI and staged some vital interventions to keep Nigeria in the game in the opening 45 minutes, displaying expert awareness in coming off his line to thwart danger.
Rohr made four changes at half time and the introduction of Las Palmas midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Hapoel’s John Ogu injected some much-needed creativity into a side that had looked completely devoid of attacking guile in the opening period, relying on trying to feed the ball into the feet of Odion Ighalo, which England lapped up gratefully.
It took just two minutes for Nigeria’s changes to make an impact, although it was two players who had started the game who combined to inflict a first conceded goal on fledgling England number one Jordan Pickford. Etebo picked up the ball in midfield, rode a few half-hearted challenges and fed Ighalo, whose low shot beat Pickford but not the far post. Arsenal striker Alex Iwobi was on hand to hammer home the rebound, with Southgate’s defence guilty of ball-watching in the hope it landed out of danger rather than trying to clear it.
Sterling continues to provide Southgate's question mark
From there, Nigeria assumed the upper hand as England ran out of steam and direction. Raheem Sterling attempted to trick the referee with a dive in the area and was rewarded with a caution in another performance laced with driving runs and intelligent movement but lacking in anything tangible in front of goal.
Until the 70th minute Nigeria were the more dangerous side, driving forward at will and causing no end of problems for the England back line. After that point, the usual raft of substitutions broke up the rhythm of the game and the previous hour or so of entertainment took on the appearance of a testimonial, with neither side entirely happy with the result but willing enough to settle for it with other games to come.
For Southgate, question marks still loom ahead of Russia in attack and defence. The game itself may have provided little for the England manager to set in stone before his World Cup campaign begins.
For Rohr, who switched to a back three to good effect at half time, this was a much more encouraging performance than a few days earlier in a 1-1 draw against DR Congo and the travelling support, who were in fine voice during a second half filled with pace, directness and more importantly a genuine goal threat, will have taken heart after the Nigeria coach showed he possesses some genuine game-changing attacking talent on his bench and has a coherent plan in how to use them in Russia.