For the first half at Wembley it felt like a new England, a vindication of nearly two years of work from Gareth Southgate trying to lift the burden of history from these players.
England walked away with the win, even after a second half resurgence from a seemingly inspired Nigeria. In a week of headlines dominated by Raheem Sterling and Nigeria’s eye catching new kit, it was refreshing to see the game itself in the spotlight.
England started very brightly, coming close with a few early crosses, before Chelsea defender Gary Cahill celebrated his return to England’s squad by opening the scoring with a powerful header after only seven minutes. It was a triumphant return for Cahill, back in the squad in place of Harry Maguire. While the Leicester man may hold the edge in terms of passing ability (A key attribute for Southgate), Cahill showed he can be a big threat on set pieces, an area that England could possibly exploit during the World Cup.
England’s total first-half domination was emphasized when captain Harry Kane scored his eighth goal in his last seven appearances. Kane struck from outside the area just six minutes before the interval when Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho allowed his 18-yard shot to slip in. The 19 year old really should have saved the effort, but for Kane its yet another reminder of his value to the side. Alongside Kyle Walker he stands out as the world class talent in the England squad, and thus, if England are to have a successful campaign in Russia, you would think Kane has to play a leading role.
Southgate, however, will be pleased by the pace and movement shown by his attacking players in a thoroughly convincing opening 45 minutes.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi gave Nigeria’s thousands of fans inside Wembley hope two minutes after the break with a crisp finish but England – who had Raheem Sterling booked for diving – closed out the victory in relatively untroubled fashion. Nigeria had a few more chances to level, but unlike against Italy two months ago, England held out for a morale boosting win.
“The most important thing I do in the next six weeks is to protect the players” – Southgate
England’s preparations continue with another friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road on Thursday, where it is anticipated that Southgate will look to rotate his side to allow the likes of Vardy, Loftus-Cheek and Alexander-Arnold to get some minutes under their belt. The national team has played at Elland Road twice before, a 3-3 draw with Sweden in June 1995 was preceded by defeat against Italy in 2002.
They will look to better that record this week, and no doubt Gareth Southgate will be hopeful of a performance to get the fans dreaming again, ahead of a big summer in Russia.
Eventmasters are delighted to be hosting a screening of the much anticipated England vs Belgium match in this months World Cup. Taking place on 28th June, this is your chance to enjoy a brilliant match in first class hospitality. Ex-Sky Sports Presenter Gary Newbon will be master of ceremonies, with England’s most Capped player, and Italia 90 hero Peter Shilton also in attendance.