The storm might have cleared but the way forward remains unclear for Roy Hodgson after his England side failed to score against ten men Honduras in their final World Cup finals warm-up game tonight.
The game was suspended in the first half for 45 minutes for a thunderstorm that threatened lightning, although rather like England’s attack it failed to strike at the Sun Life Stadium. A Honduras team bound for the World Cup finals were brutally combative at times and ended the match with ten men after defender Bryan Beckeles was sent off with 25 minutes left, although even then England could not prise them open.
That will have been a worry for Hodgson who saw his side cope with some bad challenges in a match that featured seven bookings, three of them for England. Daniel Sturridge had the best opportunities to score, missing with a header for a Glen Johnson cross late on as Honduras struggled to deal with the extra man against them, and the superior fitness of their opponents.
England will touch down in Rio de Janeiro tomorrow and train for the first time at their Urca military base on Monday. Tomorrow will be for nursing the wounds inflicted by Honduras. Even so, as preparation for the final group game against Costa Rica this will have been of value. Once again Hodgson finished the game with a young team, including Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere.
There were fears that the match would be abandoned when the players were called off the pitch by the referee after 22 minutes because of a thunderstorm rolling in over the stadium which - “with associated lightning”, according to the official account - was judged to pose a safety risk to the players. The teams were off for around 30 minutes while the match officials studied satellite data of likely weather patterns.
They eventually came back onto the pitch to warm-up and re-started the first half at 5.51pm local time, more than an hour after the match had begun. During that time, fans in the stadium – which has no roof - were encouraged to get under the cover of the stands or into the concourses. Having satisfied themselves the conditions were safe the teams came back.
The Football Association confirmed before kick-off that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be part of the squad that travelled to Rio de Janeiro directly after the game. The player himself appeared on the pitch before the game with his right leg now out of the knee brace that was protect his strained medial ligaments.
It had not been an accomplished performance from England before the break for the storm. The Honduras side were a powerful team physically, and at times they pushed the referee Ricardo Salazar to the limits. Salazar seemed reluctant to make the more difficult decisions, with Honduras’ tackling getting out of hand at times. Leighton Baines was caught twice, including within the first four minutes.
Salazar did eventually get the yellow card out a couple of times before the break, and certainly the challenge by the Celtic full-back Emilio Izaguirre deserved the sanction for sweeping away the legs of Sturridge. The defender compounded it by kicking the ball at his opponent while he lay prone on the floor. The American referee never quite had the game under control from the start.
Neither did England, it should be said, with big problems every time the ball was played into their box. Joe Hart flapped at a corner late in the half and his defenders never looked certain they were capable of dealing with crosses. There was a bad flurry of mistakes after the re-start when England looked well off the pace. The first half was one to forget for Johnson.
The best move from England had come just before the break, when Danny Welbeck played in Wayne Rooney and then, when the cross came in, the former dummied the ball and let it run to the back post. Sturridge was there with enough time to pick his spot but he dragged the ball wide of the goal. He will not get many chances in a World Cup game like that, and when they come he needs to take them.
Luis Garrido went into the referee’s book for a bad tackle on Steven Gerrard and there was a real worry that an injury could be sustained.
It was no surprise when Hodgson substituted his captain at half-time, not least for Gerrard’s own safety. On in his place came Jack Wilshere, presumably in the hope of getting England passing the ball through their opposition. He almost succeeded in the 57 minute when a nice move culminated in Wilshere sending the ball through to Ross Barkley, on in the place of Rooney, who was tackled by the last defender.
Honduras’ pressing game could be formidable at times, but they did tire and England’s quicker tempo of passing in the second half began to tell. Welbeck and then Lallana carried the ball forward on 59 minutes and when the ball came back to the Manchester United man he hit a shot that was only just blocked by the Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares.
Against a tiring opponent, the likes of Wilshere, Lallana and Barkley are dangerous but England were incapable of taking their chances. They also got themselves involved in needless little tussles with the Honduras players who were only too happy to pick away at their opponents’ patience. Lallana and Roger Espinoza was one such flash point
Eventually, Honduras went down to ten men when Brayan Beckeles, booked earlier, led with the elbow against poor old Baines and picked up his second yellow card. It could easily have been a straight red. The thought occurred that if the Hondurans pursue this aggressive policy in Brazil they are unlikely to end any game with the full eleven on the pitch.
Fraser Forster came on for Hart in the closing stages one of five substitutions made by Hodgson who also brought on Frank Lampard and Rickie Lambert. His team had lots of the ball but no goal to see them on their way to Brazil with a win.
England (4-2-3-1): Hart (Forster, 75); Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard (Wilshere, h/t), Henderson (Lampard, 83); Welbeck (Lambert, 79), Rooney (Barkley, h/t), Lallana; Sturridge.
Honduras (4-2-3-1): Valladares; Beckeles, Bernardez, Figueroa, Izaguirre (M Martinez, 90); Garrido (Claros, h/t), Palacios; M Chavez (Najar, 61), Costly (Delgado, 69), Espinoza (J Garcia, 87); Bengston (J Bengston, 75).
England - Lallana, Cahill, Baines
Honduras - Garrido, Izaguirre, Bernardez, Beckeles
Sent off: Beckeles
Referee: R Salazar (USA)