Euro 2016: Hodgson defiant as England limp past Portugal
Manager 'happy' as Rooney, Vardy and Kane fail to fire in final warm up game before match against Russia
England 1 Portugal 0.
Even by the standards of past England friendlies this was a shocker of a match. One goal, one wild tackle and 88 minutes of mind-numbing tedium. When the final whistle blew, a collective sigh of relief could be heard around Wembley, although there was also a sense of foreboding at what awaits England in the European Championships.
The Three Lions face Russia on Saturday week in their opening group game, and on the evidence of last night's display their only hope of victory is in boring their opponents to sleep.
Chris Smalling scored the only goal of the game, the Manchester United centre-back heading home Raheem Sterling's cross three minutes from time to give England their first victory over Portugal since 1998. A win is a win, of course, and the fact it was achieved without any injuries is another positive. But only the most deluded of Englishman would take any pleasure from a performance that was short on energy, imagination and intelligence.
Alas, Roy Hodgson did just that, the England manager conducting what the The Guardian describes as a "tetchy press conference" as reporters questioned the quality of his side's performance. "I'm not prepared to accept that we didn't play well," snapped Hodgson, when it was put to him that England hardly looked like credible contenders for the Euros. "We need all of our players playing well. In every game some people have a really good night, and I'm not prepared to stand here and criticise some players."
Some self-criticism may be in order, however, with Hodgson's experiment of playing Wayne Rooney as the number ten with Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy operating out wide a disaster. As the Guardian commented: "It never quite looked right seeing the two most prolific scorers in the Premier League operating as part-time wingers."
Hodgson also played Dele Alli out of the position where he excelled this season for Tottenham, and stuck out on the left side of midfield the youngster was unable to provide Kane with the same service he had at White Hart Lane.
The paucity of England's attack was all the more obvious given that Portugal played nearly an hour with ten men following Bruno Alves wild challenge on Harry Kane. The Tottenham man was almost decapitated by Alves' right boot on 35 minutes, leaving referee Marco Guida no option but to show the veteran defender a straight red.
Yet England couldn't capitalise on the man advantage and Wayne Rooney admitted it wasn't one of their better performances. "We need to play better, we know that," he said. "But it's a good sign that we didn't play well and won the game."
The honesty of the England captain was matched only by the dishonesty of his manager, who was fooling no one as the press conference became ever more rancorous. “I don't intend to tell you what I think of what worked and what didn't," muttered Hodgson, when asked for his assessment. “If I start being dissatisfied with three wins against Australia, Turkey and Portugal, I'm going to be a hard coach to satisfy. It is our third win and one against a Portugal team ranked higher than us in the Fifa rankings, so there is no reason to be dissatisfied."
But not everyone shared Hodgson's assessment. As Gary Lineker tweeted: "When Smalling scores you just know we're serious contenders."