After a night when some of the fans’ entertainment stemmed from how far they could get paper aeroplanes on to the pitch, England fly out for their final preparations in Miami on Sunday knowing they have yet to achieve full lift-off as a potential World Cup force. This was a night of some positives and some enduring concerns.
First the pluses. Daniel Sturridge was named man of the match largely because of one uplifting moment in an otherwise low-key first half, a run in from the right and curling left-footed finish from the edge of the area.Roy Hodgson knows he can call upon a fit, in-form, prolific No 9 who has now scored four times in his 11 internationals, and his 28th in 38 games this season.
One of Sturridge’s many strengths is that he rarely loses confidence, even when suffering a few frustrating moments with his first touch or second-rate service in the half-hour before he scored. The Liverpoolforward kept looking for the ball, kept making intelligent runs, and his movement will cause problems to superior defences than Peru’s.
Other positives included brief touches of class from Adam Lallana, particularly when dribbling forward. Hodgson seems to have decided to go into the World Cup with the 4-2-3-1 system that helped England past Montenegro and Poland and across the qualifying finishing line.
If England were not fully convincing, there was sufficient fluidity of movement to delight Hodgson and distract an impressive crowd of 83,578 from their aeronautical endeavours
The system looked even better when Raheem Sterling was inserted midway through the second half, giving England more pace and ideas. Like Sturridge, Sterling has developed significantly under Brendan Rodgers this season.
Further encouragement came from Joe Hart, who rescued England a couple of times, and from Leighton Baines, who delivered a couple of second-half corners from which Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka scored.
Hodgson reported afterwards that England had emerged unscathed from the first of their three warm-up games; Baines, having felt a slight calf twinge, was withdrawn simply as a precaution and his departure brought a welcome debut for his Everton team-mate, John Stones.
Stones at Wembley? Sounds good.
England’s home will be seeing plenty more of the talented defender, a versatile player at ease on the ball. Stones can play centre-back but came on at right-back with Glen Johnson moving left. He will travel to Miami with Jon Flanagan but their adventure looks to end there. Hodgson confirmed Phil Jones starts against Ecuador at the Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday.
England have a problem at right-back. Johnson, a player easily piqued when criticised, was one of the two over-riding concerns bequeathed by this match. He was caught out by sudden Peruvian moves, either caught upfield because of his attacking brio that Hodgson so admires or simply caught napping at the back as when Peru broke through a couple of times.
Johnson was not culpable on his own; there remain collective, as well as individual shortcomings in England’s back-line.
Further forward, Wayne Rooney clearly needs games. There could be no doubting his application during 66 minutes here but he looked rusty, inevitably so after injury. The phone-ins will froth over Rooney’s inclusion but the one opinion that matters most, the judgment of the manager, is one that backs the No 10.
Calls for Ross Barkley to start, or for Sterling to start in the middle will go unheeded by Hodgson. Rooney has a talent too often hidden at tournaments. He knows he needs a strong World Cup.
The sense of the World Cup hurtling into vision had been reflected by the fact that this friendly was being televised live on Brazilian TV.
The sound of the clock ticking louder towards England’s June 14 opener against Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo and company was also unmistakable, although the weather was hardly Manaus.
Two representatives of the Italian FA had taken up their seats amongst those England fans forming their mosaic before kick-off. One of the smartly-dressed pair held up his mobile phone to record the home supporters singing the National Anthem before settling to back to watch England stutter until Sturridge’s wonderful 32nd-minute goal.
Before then, there were pointers to Hodgson’s intentions for Brazil. Here was confirmation that Hodgson was planning to use 4-2-3-1.
England’s manager has been involved in the establishing of a consistent style amongst the England age groups, clearly building towards the seniors.
Steven Gerrard sat deep, looking to take the ball off the centre-halves or from Hart. On his 34th birthday marked by fans’ flags, Gerrard was making his 110th international appearance, and the warmth of the supporters’ reception revealed their fear that this could be his final game at Wembley in an England shirt.
With Liverpool back in Europe, Gerrard could decide to call time on his international career after Brazil, concentrating exclusively on his club commitments.
Echoing Rodgers, Hodgson fielded Jordan Henderson alongside Gerrard. Henderson was energetic enough but Jack Wilshere’s claims to the place grew here.
England endured some nervous moments before Sturridge scored.
Hart was out quickly to seize the ball ahead of Jean Deza. Having showed his anticipation, England’s keeper then demonstrate his athleticism, moving his feet quickly, dropping back and catching a Deza shot that had deflected off Jagielka.
Sturridge then intervened. Collecting a throw from Johnson after 32 minutes, Sturridge shuffled his feet in that familiar way of his to deceive Yoshimar Yotun before angling his run across the box, slightly away from goal.
Yotun recovered and dived back in but Sturridge was too quick, too in control. Alexander Callens then tried to close him down but Sturridge had found the space he needed, just outside the box, and that trusted left foot came down, sending the ball curling past Raul Fernandez.
Peru’s captain, Alberto Rodriguez, threw up his arms in frustration but it was a superbly-placed strike, delivered with minimal back-lift, giving the keeper no chance. It was a reminder of Sturridge’s threat when he can work the ball on his left foot. Eschewing his wobbly arm celebrations, Sturridge simply pointed to the heavens. Up in the Rolex-rattling seats, the Duke of Cambridge applauded appreciatively.
The half also closed with another concerning sign of vulnerability at the back, this time with Johnson’s failure to remember the offside rule. Luis Ramirez run through unchecked, and only Hart’s shrewdness, spotting the danger, spreading himself and saving with his left foot rescued England.
The second half opened with Johnson again caught out of position, and the Italian FA spies – if you can be undercover in an Azzurri blazer – will have seen how easily Peru were able to counter-attack down the left. England’s defenders then paraded their more assertive side.
Cahill moved stealthily in the box to meet Baines’ corner, heading it powerfully past Fernandez after 65 minutes. Five minutes later, Baines then curled in another corner, Fernandez totally misjudged it, allowing Jagielka to strike the ball back past the Peru keeper and in.