Boost for Wayne Rooney as Raheem Sterling is red-carded
Sterling's red card gives Hodgson a reason to stick with Wayne
(Enner Valencia 8, Michael Arroyo 70)
(WAYNE ROONEY 29, RICKIE LAMBERT 51)
Raheem Sterling's violent act got his manager out of jail. Roy Hodgson has an excuse to play safe.
Barring a disaster in the final friendly against Honduras, Wayne Rooney should find himself pinned to the left flank in England's World Cup opener against Italy.
His tap-in against Ecuador and Sterling's extraordinary lapse of self-control yesterday morning (Singapore time) overshadowed the elephant up front.
Rooney cannot be England's main striker anymore.
Rickie Lambert posed a more incisive attacking threat in the 2-2 draw. Daniel Sturridge offered greater mobility for most of last season.
Rooney laboured behind Sturridge against Peru. But he profited from low expectations against Ecuador. He was adequate on the left. For his cautious manager, that's as good as it needs to get.
After the game, Hodgson stressed his striker's success at ticking all the boxes out wide. "Yes, it's a position he could fill in Brazil," he declared optimistically.
It's a role Rooney has criticised in the past. It's a role that he rarely stayed in yesterday. He slipped out of character frequently. He treated the position like a trip to the in-laws. He couldn't wait to get away.
His presence on the left flank was marginal. He drifted inside at every opportunity, displaying an urgency to knit the pattern of the play. His temperament can suffer when he tiptoes along the game's periphery. When he's involved, he's engaged.
He was focused against Ecuador, but not always tactically disciplined, sometimes following in the footsteps of Ross Barkley rather literally.
Rooney was undoubtedly aware of his Manchester United colleague Antonio Valencia's tendency to go walkabout along his nominated flank. England's new wide man made the most of the space between Valencia and full-back Juan Carlos Paredes. The Italians will be less obliging.
His neat combinations with Barkley proved to be a cutting double-edged sword. Making his full debut, the Everton midfielder shares more characteristics with a young Rooney than the senior player might care to admit.
As the game progressed, Barkley grew in both stature and confidence, forcing the Ecuadorians to retreat. They never quite waved the white flag, but they were always wary.
Barkley on the ball, in an England jersey, can make for an incongruous sight.
He generates excitement and uncertainty. He inspires speed and movement in those around him. He makes things happen. He follows the template once laid down by Rooney.
He is passing every audition for the creative role behind the main strikers.
Lambert is hardly flunking his tests either. His third goal in just five England games was a peach, bending a low drive with the outside of his boot into the bottom corner.
He would've nipped in for England's opener, after initially back-heeling against the post, but Rooney got his big toe to the rebound first.
Much is made of Lambert's age. He scored his first England goal at 31. Less is made of his experience, scoring goals by the bag full at every stage of his professional career.
In some ways, his leap to superstardom is more plausible than that of 19-year-old Sterling. The Liverpool winger has moved from being a youth team unknown to a possible World Cup starter in two seasons.
Lambert has been delivering, and scoring, since Sterling was playing the fool in secondary school. He's not making a quantum leap, but clearing another stepping stone in a steady, upwardly mobile career. Age doesn't grant another yard of pace, but it can deliver on wisdom.
Lambert's intelligence was unmistakable, instinctively knowing when to stay and when to drop. He gorged on Barkley's silver service, but he was equally willing to feed others.
Sturridge is still likely to be first choice for the risk-adverse Hodgson, but his new teammate at Liverpool has confirmed his place as an able deputy.
Lambert's progress through a career of hard knocks makes him a reliable, durable choice. He doesn't break easily. He has no obvious pressure points.
That leaves only the left for Rooney. And Sterling's sending-off gives Hodgson carte blanche to pick his preferred striker out of position.
Sterling will not be suspended for the World Cup opener, but his youthful volatility gets his manager out of a hole. Form and natural talent favour Sterling on the left. But his rash tackle blots the copybook.
Despite scoring his 39th goal for his country, England's top scorer is not among the in-form strikers.
A bright future can still beckon, but only if he looks left.
Sterling's red card has offered Rooney his best shot at World Cup redemption.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
“Sterling’s red card was harsh. It was a rash tackle but I thought Raheem was unlucky because of the way Valencia reacted.”
— England manager Roy Hodgson, who’s disappointed with Antonio Valencia. The winger grabbed Sterling on the neck after the latter’s tackle. Both saw red.
“Let’s hope this (reaction) is not repeated. He’s already made his apologies to the group and to everyone.”
— Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda on the reaction of Valencia
“This World Cup I’m not expecting much. This is a transitional period for England and in four years’ time, we’ll the see the fruition of this team.”
— Ex-England international John Barnes
Brazil-Sweden and Germany-Yugoslavia/Serbia fixtures are the most-played ties in the World Cup, having been contested seven times each. But, with Serbia and Sweden not qualifying, there won't be an eighth meeting this year.
I'm ignoring my critics: Roon
Wayne Rooney. PHOTOS: AFP
Wayne Rooney could not care less about the critics who say he should be dropped from the England team.
The 28-year-old's place in Roy Hodgson's starting 11 has been in doubt due to the striker's lack of fitness and poor showing against Peru last Friday.
The Manchester United forward gave the perfect riposte to his detractors by impressing in the 2-2 draw against Ecuador in Miami's Sun Life Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Despite being played out of position on the left flank, Rooney put in a dynamic display and caused Ecuador problems with his pace. He also scored to cancel out Enner Valencia's opener.
Paul Scholes and Gary Lineker appeared to harbour doubts about whether Rooney should be a part of Hodgson's first 11 in Brazil, but Rooney says he does not care.
"I am not really interested," Rooney said when asked about claims he should be dropped.
"A lot of people have their opinions - but I listen to the people around me and in the coaching set-up.
"I don't listen to people outside of the set-up, really, so anyone, journalists can say what they want. I have got no interest in listening to them."
Ever since Rooney burst onto the scene with a series of impressive displays at Euro 2004, he has been bulletproof.
But, with Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley all in form, Rooney no longer commands a first-team slot, as the player acknowledges himself.
"I don't think anyone is guaranteed a start in the team," said Rooney, who is still recovering from the groin injury that kept him out of United's final three matches of the season.
"It is down to the manager to pick the team. I think all (the young players) are (pushing Roy for a start).
"It is a good squad the manager is picking his team from, so the manager will have some tough decisions I am sure and that is down to him to do."
Five years ago, Rooney spoke of his dislike at playing out wide for United, but now, he is happy to play in any position for Hodgson.
He said: "I enjoy playing for my country whether it is left wing, right wing, midfield or up front. I am always proud to play for England and that won't change no matter where I am on the pitch." - PA Sport.