Wayne Rooney scored and Raheem Sterling found himself sent off as England stumbled to an underwhelming 2-2 draw with Ecuador in their penultimate friendly before the World Cup.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also forced off early through injury on Wednesday, a concern for the Arsenal midfielder with the World Cup just eight days away.
Head coach Roy Hodgson saw his heavily rotated side go behind after just eight minutes to Enner Valencia’s header, before Rooney’s tap-in and Rickie Lambert’s emphatic finish moments after half-time turned the scoreline on its head.
But England squandered their momentum and were punished by a brilliant equaliser: Michael Arroyo beating Ben Foster from the edge of the box with a perfect drive that flew just inside the post.
There were no further goals, but there was still time for some drama, as both Sterling and Antonio Valencia were given their marching orders after the latter reacted angrily to a relatively innocuous challenge from the former.
Neither will miss any World Cup games through suspension, although Hodgson may nevertheless be a bit annoyed that Sterling—a second-half substitute—was robbed of an extra 15 minutes on the pitch.
He will be more concerned about the status of Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, whose knee appeared to buckle after Carlos Gruezo rolled into him.
Afterwards, Hodgson told reporters (per the BBC):
Raheem Sterling's sending-off was harsh. I am a bit disappointed a senior player like Antonio Valencia reacted in that way.
I thought they acquitted themselves brilliantly and played some good football at times.
We have our fears there may be some ligament damage [with Oxlade-Chamberlain] but we won't know until he has a scan.
Hodgson may wonder quite how England managed to draw this one. They looked dominant from the first whistle, with Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain imposing themselves almost immediately, yet they went behind to virtually Ecuador’s first attack of the game.
The defending was not great: James Milner failing to close down the Walter Ayovi’s cross as Chris Smalling missed his header and Enner Valencia out-jumped Luke Shaw (making his first start for the Three Lions) to power a header beyond Foster.
Rooney was the only player in the starting XI in Miami who also started against Peru at Wembley on Friday, and it was Rooney who eventually got England back on terms. It was the simplest of strikes, the Manchester United forward sweeping home from barely a yard out after Lambert had struggled to bundle in Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inviting cross.
Rooney celebrated the finish enthusiastically, perhaps an indication that he feels his place in the team to face Italy is far from certain.
If that had been a squandered opportunity for the new Liverpool signing, then he made up for it as soon as both sides re-emerged for the second half. This time Barkley was the provider, the Everton midfielder beating three men before feeding Lambert, who beat the goalkeeper with an arrowing shot with the outside of his boot.
Most casual observers may have assumed that would be that in terms of the result, as England finally made their general superiority count. But Ecuador had looked dangerous on the counter-attack and with 20 minutes remaining they made that count.
Foster had a poor game overall, but he cannot blame himself for Arroyo’s equaliser: The midfielder hitting as pure a strike as you could wish to see to ultimately ensure the game would finish level.
The remaining drama would be of a more bizarre nature, as the referee produced two late red cards. Sterling certainly flew into a tackle with Antonio Valencia, but it certainly did not warrant the reaction of the Manchester United winger, who grabbed his opponent round the back of the neck as he remonstrated about the challenge.
The referee, perhaps caught by surprise at being asked to deal with such a decision, produced two red cards—a bizarre and completely incorrect decision, at least as far as Sterling was concerned. Fortunately, FIFA does not normally hand out suspensions for dismissals in friendlies.
With that being the case, it is the injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain that may be most worrisome to Hodgson. The Arsenal man had perhaps done more than any other player to raise his prospects heading into the World Cup, yet his participation could be in some doubt judging by his initial reaction to the clash with Gruezo.
More generally, Hodgson now only has one friendly—against Honduras at the same venue on Saturday—to learn anything more about his squad. If he had concerns about Rooney going into this fixture, however, then he was not dwelling on them afterwards.
"I was pleased with the way Wayne Rooney played," Hodgson concluded. "I was happy he scored his goal and how he interpreted the position.
"I thought it was a well merited and a prestigious draw against a good Ecuador team."
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|Ecuador Player Ratings|
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England face Honduras at the Sun Life Stadium on Saturday in the final World Cup warm-up match. Ecuador, meanwhile, now have 11 days before they open their World Cup campaign against Switzerland.
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