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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

England get World Cup preparations under way with victory over Nigeria

Goals from Cahill and Kane ensured victory for Southgate's team but there was a big difference in performance between the two halves.

Harry Kane, right, celebrates after scoring England's second goal in the 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley on Saturday. Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA
Harry Kane, right, celebrates after scoring England's second goal in the 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley on Saturday. Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA

One down, one to go. England have a solitary friendly left to prepare for the 2018 World Cup and if the headlines from Wembley involved a victory and a goal from Harry Kane on his first game after being installed as the long-term captain, the significance may lie in the names being stencilled onto the teamsheet.

The Tottenham Hotspur duo of Kieran Trippier and Dele Alli were arguably the outstanding individuals against Nigeria. The right wing-back and the midfielder ought to have booked their places in the starting XI against Tunisia in Russia.

Left wing-back Ashley Young pressed his case with his creative prowess while there were clear indications Gareth Southgate sees Kyle Walker as a centre-back and Jordan Pickford as his first-choice goalkeeper.

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England began terrifically. Francis Uzoho repelled Trippier’s sixth-minute free kick, but it only preserved parity for a few seconds. Trippier took the resulting corner and Gary Cahill met it with an emphatic header. A fine display capped a return to form and favour for a man who lost his place in the Chelsea team and the England squad. Two weeks after captaining his club to FA Cup final victory at Wembley, he scored for his country.

It highlighted a weakness. Nigeria’s problems against the crossed ball may not bode well for them. Uzoho made a stop from John Stones and Eric Dier headed wide, both from Young’s set-pieces.

Impressive early on, Uzoho erred when he let Kane’s shot squirm under him as England doubled their lead. The striker was teed up by Raheem Sterling.

Southgate had considered omitting Sterling for his tardy timekeeping after he reported late for the squad. Yet that would have come at a cost to his preparations. The Manchester City man is earmarked for a key role and the shame for England’s roving No 10 was that he marred an otherwise encouraging performance with his diving, which earned him a yellow card, and shooting, spurning the chances to score just a third international goal. Alli was the provider on each occasion, once following a terrific ball from Kane, but Sterling missed the target twice.

At that stage, it was another advertisement for the merits of England’s 3-5-2 system. They always had passing options. Nigeria found too many of their players too elusive. Their answer came in the form of a half-time switch to match up. England’s future opponents may take note and act accordingly.

Mediocre in the first half, Nigeria scored soon into the second. Alex Iwobi dispatched the rebound after Odion Ighalo struck the post. Pickford he was left powerless. It was the first goal England have conceded in open play since September.

There could have been a second as Nigeria applied pressure. Excellent before the break, England were undistinguished after it.

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