Last-gasp Smalling goal hands England hard fought Portugal spoils
Holly Thackeray | June 2, 2016
England 1-0 Portugal
- England deploy diamond formation featuring Vardy and Kane up top
- Rooney had several first-half chances
- Alves sent off for Portugal after reckless high challenge on Kane
- First 45 finished 0-0
- Late Smalling header seals win for England
Three Lions thwart Portugal in final friendly
England (9/1 with Coral to lift Euro 2016) finished their final warm-up match before the European Championship in victorious fashion against 10-men Portugal, with the Three Lions running out narrow 1-0 winners at Wembley.
Bruno Alves left the Navigators short after a dangerous and wild challenge on Harry Kane around 10 minutes before the break ended up with an early bath, in a first-half in which the Three Lions failed to find a way past their tightly organised opponents.
The second 45 provided much of the same, despite a raft of experimental substitutions by both sides, but this could be vital experience for England as they prepare for a slower continental style, and will also serve to temper expectations about the the fairly new-look attack. Centre back Chris Smalling finally found the break through just before the end of normal time, however, to send England to France full of confidence.
England toil up top early
With new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho watching on from the crowd (just supporting his country? Or cheekily scouting a target?), England deployed a diamond formation again to accommodate all of Kane, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney, with Eric Dier snuffing out danger at the base, and dynamic Dele Alli drifting wide left often to provide width with James Milner quietly grafting on the other flank.
Could this be close to what Roy Hodgson intends for the first match in France? If so, there may be one very disgruntled Raheem Sterling on the sidelines.
It was fairly cautious from both sides in the first exchanges, at an intermittently bouncing Wembley Stadium with the traditional background drums, before sight of breakthrough.
Finally, around 10 minutes in, Portugal number one Rui Patricio’s poor clearance fell to full back Kyle Walker and then Kane, who slipped a smart ball through the tight lines of the Portuguese defence to pick out a stretching Rooney, though the Red Devil was offside anyway, but keeper Patricio redeemed himself with a top stop to deny at close range.
Tempers were far from friendly as expected, with wily and ageing defender Ricardo Carvalho seeking to inflame Alli with a push – the England midfielder responded but it was all handbags, though it served as warning of passions rising on the pitch.
Portugal’s best move perhaps came as Rafa Silva threatened to turn Chris Smalling with his pace, but the Braga forward was left chasing hopeful long balls, while Danny Rose and Walker sought to nullify the Navigators’ wide threat, and fortuitously only had Nani to restrict up top with Cristiano Ronaldo rested.
Walker later pumped in a pin-point ball which Rooney met strongly, but Portuguese post protector Patricio was again his equal, as the Three Lions failed to really threaten to unlock their opponents early on.
Rose, one half of Hodgson’s attacking full back roster, decided to go more direct and cut in to unleash a stinging shot, though Tottenham clubmate Kane got in the way and could not control the deflection. Seconds later, roaming in from the other flank Walker pounced on a lose ball and pulled the trigger on another pile-driver, narrowly hitting the side netting.
Navigator sees red at Wembley
Portugal may have had the better of possession, if not penetration, but frustrations surprisingly boiled over deep in the first 45 as former Porto defender Alves committed a karate kick-esque, reckless and dangerous high challenge on Kane.
The Fenerbahce centre back rightly received a straight red card around the 34th minute, despite Portugal protests, and it will raise questions over whether coach Fernando Santos should field the slow pairing of he and Carvalho again.
As it stands Alves will not be banned for the Euros, though authorities could still look at sanctions for the poor challenge should they deem it worthy. Watch this space.
The veteran defender had rushed in as the last man, but luckily only just scraped a charging Kane on the head, so the thankfully unscathed Spurs striker carried on regardless and minutes later tested Patricio with a low strike, but it was straight at the stopper as the first 45 petered out.
Portuguese possession continues
The addition of highly-rated Valencia midfield schemer Andre Gomes, also an apparent Mourinho target, added a splash more panache to Portuguese play after the re-start, as the playmaker forced Gary Cahill into a a diving interception following a slice of skill in the box.
Summing up England’s issues, diligent Dier was forced to charge forward and try a pot-shot from 30 yards, as the Iberian guests illustrated just how to contain England’s recently exciting attack.
The Three Lions did finally find the back of the net, but play had already been stopped after Cahill was adjudged to have clambered too aggressively over guileful Gomes in a set-piece scramble.
Jack Wilshere and Sterling were eventually called upon to add more attacking impetus, with Vardy and Milner departing after frustrating evenings in white shirts.
Though, this change was quickly countered by the arrival of Bayern Munich-bound dynamo Renato Sanches and Sporting Lisbon midfield shield William Carvalho.
Sanches was soon up in everybody’s business, sensationally displaying his strength by holding of Sterling repeatedly to ride challenges.
Smalling saves the day with late dispatch
There was a late flourish by both sides, as expected in the latter stages, with substitutes Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge almost making an instant impact. The Liverpool pair almost combined wonderfully as lively wideman Lallana kept pushing at the Portuguese rearguard, eventually finding Sterling, though Sturridge fluffed his lines.
Luckily for the Reds sharpshooter, centre half Smalling converted late after great work from Sterling on the wing. The Manchester City plotter picked up a set-piece deflection and sent a curling cross in to meet the Man Utd defender, who headed past Patricio with aplomb. It wasn’t pretty, but England have proven they can pick up tricky wins, which can only bode well for group games against the likes of Wales, Russia and Slovakia.