WEEKEND POLL: England unable to raise expectation levels

Gary Cahill scores England's second goal during their 3-0 win over Peru at Wembley last night (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire).
Gary Cahill scores England's second goal during their 3-0 win over Peru at Wembley last night (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire).
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AS the nation that invented football heads for the land that elevated the game, they do so with expectations on their shoulders as low as they have been for a long time.

England are 25-1 to win the World Cup in Brazil, the longest odds they have been before a global gathering since 1982.

Despite a routine victory here last night against South American opponents who have not won in nearly a year, England did little to suggest those hopes should be raised for the forthcoming tournament.

Brazil is the land of samba football, but Wembley last night felt like the home of the same old, same old.

Only Daniel Sturridge resembles anything like a difference maker, his sumptuous first-half goal satisfying a sell-out crowd that spent most of the night turning clapper boards into paper aeroplanes and by the hour mark had descended into its first Mexican wave.

The other goals came from centre-halves at set-pieces; Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka getting a head and a toe respectively on whipped-in corners from Leighton Baines.

Cahill’s header at least offered partial atonement, for it was in the final warm-up game before Euro 2012 that a petty shove by Belgium’s Dries Mertens resulted in the Sheffield-born defender sustaining an injury that ruled him out of the tournament.

These warm-up matches are as much about emerging unscathed as anything else and for that England manager Roy Hodgson will be relieved that the injury report he receives before his side board their flight to Miami tomorrow will be brief.

Only Baines looked affected, slowing down as he gave chase to a through-ball, but the injury did not look too severe.

Baines is one of those near-certainties to line up against Italy in Manaus in a fortnight, when the unbearable humidity will feel a world away from a cool Spring evening at Wembley, and will only serve to further deflate those underwhelming expectations swirling around England.

With Baines at left-back, Hodgson appears set on a back five of Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Jagielka and Cahill.

Ahead of them, Gerrard as captain is a certainty to face Italy in the opening game of Group D, as are Wayne Rooney and Sturridge.

But beyond that, this game and the fixtures with Ecuador on Wednesday and Honduras on Saturday, both in Miami, represent auditions for a host of players.

Danny Welbeck was one who did most to press his claims last night with his direct running throughout 90 minutes, while the raft of substitutions late in the game – Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling – will hope for more game time this week to impress Hodgson.

As England chugged into life in the first half, it was a youthful Peru who looked more dangerous.

The fleet-footed Andre Carrillo caught Johnson out of position but the right-back atoned with a well-timed tackle.

England were too narrow in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

All the width and zest Andros Townsend brought to the white shirt in those crucial October qualifiers was conspicuous by its absence, as at one stage, club team-mates Welbeck and Rooney ran into each other in England’s cluttered midfield.

Adam Lallana did more work back-tracking down the inside-right channel than he did going forward.

For all their possession, England were relieved that Hart was alert to cut out Luis Ramirez’s through ball to Jean Deza, and then tip the latter’s deflected shot wide after Gerrard had lost possession in midfield.

That finally sparked England into life and a buccaneering run from Lallana gave Sturridge a sight at goal but he pulled his shot wide.

Hodgson’s men looked predictably familiar in their attacking play, the cute flicks proving easy on the eye but never really going anywhere.

They needed a moment of inspiration to rouse them and Sturridge provided it, collecting Johnson’s throw and curling a left-footed shot over Raul Fernandez and into the top corner.

Rather than ignite lift-off, though, England remained rooted to the floor and only the left leg of Hart prevented Ramirez equalising on the cusp of half-time after Deza’s ball had sprung a feeble offside trap.

Deza, who at 20 took the eye on his debut for Peru, almost caught Hart unawares with a 30-yard shot that dropped onto the roof of the net.

Moments later Rooney tore back to the right-back position to give him an old-fashioned English welcome.

Jagielka then spared Johnson’s blushes with a saving tackle on Paolo Hurtado before his central defensive partner Cahill thundered a header home from eight yards from Baines’s corner midway through the second half.

Jagielka then got in on the act, tapping the ball home after Fernandez had clattered into his own man after failing to collect another corner from Baines.

The Everton full-back’s departure shortly after, his hand clutching his left thigh, presented club-mate John Stones with the chance to make his England bow.

The 20-year-old Barnsley-born defender was playing Championship football for his home-town club 18 months ago. Last night’s fare should at least prove memorable for one young debutant from South Yorkshire.

England: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka (Smalling 73), Baines (Stones 75); Gerrard (Wilshere 64), Henderson; Lallana (Milner 73), Rooney (Sterling 66), Welbeck, Sturridge (Barkley 82). Unused substitutes: Foster, Forster, Lampard, Lambert, Flanagan.

Peru: Fernandez; Rodriguez, Callens, Ramos (Riojas 68), Advincula (Velarde 77); Ballon, Cruzado, Ramirez (Hurtado 60), Yotun; Deza (Ruidiaz 65), Carrillo (Flores 86). Unused substitutes: Forsyth, Gallese, Gambetta, Angel Saavedra.

Referee: V Kassai (Hungary).