There were no real poor displays for England in their 3-0 victory over Ivory Coast, with Jude Bellingham doing the most to stake his claim.
England finally have themselves a competent right-back. It has been an incredibly long wait for someone decent to emerge in the position but White seems happy to oblige. He did nothing spectacular but, perhaps crucially after his weekend error at centre-half, nor was there anything stupid or questionable. Many an England move was started through his aggressive, proactive tackling and only once did Maxwel Cornet find space behind him. White also provided a sumptuous ball over the top on the stretch to create a chance for Sterling before his half-time substitution.
Showed immense character to compartmentalise a bizarre home reception and put in a fine display. There was little to do in terms of defence but Maguire covered well for White on the odd occasion the Arsenal defender vacated his space on the right. England’s two goals also bore the Manchester United captain’s fingerprints, Maguire carrying the ball out of defence to speed up the move for the first before playing a line-breaking pass into Watkins for the second. Both showcased his best attributes and at no stage did Ivory Coast come close to exposing his worst. By the end it was Maguire who tried to cajole a slumbering match with another fine ball, this time cutting out the middle man and directly finding Kane through the middle, only for the striker’s touch to desert him. Maguire’s poor England games can still be counted on one finger.
Harry Maguire being booed by England fans on the basis of him playing poorly for a team they do not support and likely actively dislike. Despite him being generally very good/important/reliable for the team they do support, for whom he is currently playing.
— Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) March 29, 2022
Spent 90 minutes assuring his centre-half partner that Wembley was saying boo-urns. Misplaced a single pass and was barely ruffled en route to his 14th clean sheet in 17 England caps. Chewed gum from kick-off to his well-executed clinching header and still thereafter.
Did not look even slightly out of place, although his overlapping runs on the left-hand side were ignored more often than one might expect. Mitchell was not called upon regularly to contribute to the attack but it was his delightful ball across goal after Bellingham hit the post that narrowly evaded Watkins. Nicolas Pepe got behind the left-back once but so assured was the England defender that he recovered, halted the attack and won a goal kick. The 22-year-old already looks frighteningly comfortable at this level.
Behind a front three that pressed constantly and at the right times, Rice was able to set the final trap and either intercept a panicked pass or smother a player who had just received the ball, forcing regular turnovers high up the pitch. His passing was crisp, his positioning was sound and his runs were progressive. The only minor blemish was that tame first-half header but that was a strikingly straightforward and dominant hour and a half.
Could quite comfortably watch him pass for an entire game. It is also important not to take his set-piece delivery for granted, breathtakingly and unerringly brilliant as it is. A 30-yard effort dipped onto the roof of the net to almost crown another solid cap. Very good in a makeshift midfield, albeit one that went largely unchallenged.
Might not be a popular opinion but it is a hill I’m willing to die on: Jude Bellingham is pretty good at football. It actually started with an uncharacteristic mistake when he delayed releasing the ball on a counter-attack and Watkins ended up being offside from a brilliant position. But the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was central to almost every positive aspect of England’s performance, from his tireless pressing to the passing combinations with Sterling and Grealish. Unfortunate to hit the post. Shot just wide soon after. Nearly won a penalty from a late but cleverly-timed run. The foundation around which England can plan their next decade or so.
Pinpointed by many as an eyebrow-raising inclusion in the squad at the expense of Jadon Sancho, Sterling raided the back of his pantry, checked the expiration date on his humble pie and proceeded to serve lashings of it throughout. A willing participant in Bellingham’s incisive one-two before hitting the post, Sterling was lucky to avoid a red after snapping Serge Aurier’s ankle ligaments on the half-hour before nutmegging Eric Bailly to set up the first goal. That put him in the mood: minutes later he cut in from the opposite wing and forced
Jean Michael Seri into incurring a booking, then capped a sublime first half with the first international friendly goal of his career. Simon Deli was clearly an avid reader of the Daily Mail between 2016 and 2018 as he kept fouling Sterling, whose place in this attack remains as assured and deserved as ever.
Used to be an adventurer like you, but then he took a stud to the knee in the first minute. Yet that did not stop Watkins constantly exploring and helping knit a fluid, excellent attack together. The Aston Villa forward did not drop into midfield and play 30-yard passes in behind like Kane but often came deep to receive the ball and lay it off short to a willing runner, all within a couple of touches. That link-up play came to the fore with Sterling’s goal but before then it was Watkins’ own movement and anticipation that allowed him to convert the Manchester City forward’s cross with ease a few minutes earlier. A very complicated role was made to look simple by a player with more dimensions than some give him credit for. Kane’s current chief deputy might just have made himself known.
“It’s a brilliant time to be in my shoes,” was Grealish’s honest full-time assessment; it seems less fun to occupy the boots of his opponents. From that first bursting, searching run inside in the third minute, the Manchester City forward rifled through his bag of flicks and tricks to entertain the crowd and torment Ivory Coast. The way he simplified the assist for Sterling’s goal was glorious and the dummy for Bellingham’s overturned penalty encapsulated a player enjoying his work.
KYLE WALKER-PETERS (on for White, 46)
Offered the most attacking threat of any full-back during a really bright second half. There was one great low cross that no-one attacked, before good link-up play with Foden set up a Smith Rowe chance that resulted in the corner from which Mings scored.
LUKE SHAW (on for Mitchell, 62)
Did not play at left-back. Maximised his last half an hour of fun football for the season by stationing himself on the edge of the Ivory Coast penalty area and indulging in some quick passing.
EMILE SMITH ROWE (on for Grealish, 62)
Slotted confidently straight into a side that had played some great one-touch football for the previous hour, although Smith Rowe was perhaps a victim of being introduced when fatigue and motivation became a struggle. He will be frustrated with that miskick from the Walker-Peters cross but his conundrum was perhaps best summed up when he drifted in from the left and tried a one-two into the area with Bellingham, whose return ball was overhit.
PHIL FODEN (on for Sterling, 62)
No-one has ever shown for the ball more than Foden as a second-half substitute at home to a beaten opponent that has already been reduced to ten men. Would not be surprised to learn he had more touches than everyone combined. Did not do a great deal with many of them, save for one skied shot, a couple of decent interchanges with Walker-Peters and the corners for Mings’ goal.
HARRY KANE (on for Watkins, 62)
CONOR GALLAGHER (on for Ward-Prowse, 79)
The archetypal ‘Given no time to impress – N/A’ performance.