Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain fire optimism but will Hodgson make England exciting again?

The Three Lions boss was pleased with the open football on display at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami, although a knee injury to the Arsenal man will come as a blow

By Sam Lee

“There were so many positives, I’m not going to cry too many tears over the fact we didn’t actually win.” That was Roy Hodgson’s refreshingly upbeat assessment of an open, end-to-end friendly which prompted hope and caution in equal measure.

The 2-2 draw with Ecuador in Miami was clearly regarded as an opportunity to experiment, both with personnel and outlook, and from that point of view Hodgson has plenty about which to be pleased.

There were fearless performances from Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as goals of varying quality from Wayne Rooney and Rickie Lambert, all in temperatures to match the sweltering conditions of Manaus.

Rooney, the only starter here who is likely to line up against Italy, was deployed on the left as Hodgson continues to weigh up his options with just 10 days to go before the big kick-off in the Amazon.

He bundled home his goal and celebrated with noteable gusto, while Lambert added a second with a clean, crisp strike following yet another piece of inspiration from Barkley.

The Everton youngster was once again in ebullient form, at times reminscent of the young Rooney which took Euro 2004 by storm.

He is unlikely to start against Italy but, even if he is not introduced as an impact substitute, he again demonstrated that he can play a big part in the rest of England’s campaign. He is a game-changer whether he starts or not.

Oxlade-Chamberlain turned in a similarly bright performance, providing driving runs and teasing crosses, but was withdrawn after the hour mark with what Hodgson fears is knee ligament damage.

It was the biggest negative of the evening for the England boss, who was content with his side’s bright start despite the “amazing cold shower” provided by Enner Valencia’s thumping eighth-minute header which gave Ecuador the lead against the run of play.

Raheem Sterling’s foolish red card, for lunging in on Antonio Valencia near his own corner flag, was another sour note but he will not miss the World Cup, although he will be banned for Saturday’s final warm-up match.

Michael Arroyo’s screamer levelled the scores to put something of a damper on the final 30 minutes but Hodgson remained upbeat.

He was he not overly concerned about the amount of chances created by the South Americans, either, instead choosing to focus on how the Three Lions could have been “four or five goals up”.

It all feels rather new for somebody with the reputation of an arch-pragmatist. He is unlikely to go into the match against the Azzurri with such a mindset but, after two dire World Cup showings in 2006 and 2010, it bodes well for England fans that the rest of the tournament could have them on the edge of their seats.

The former Liverpool and Fulham boss has not yet found the right balance between stodgy defensive displays and end-to-end ding-dongs so, while a point may be the height of ambition against the Italians, this more adventurous approach may be adopted against Uruguay and Costa Rica.

We will know more after Saturday’s game against Honduras, with most – if not all – of Hodgson’s preferred XI set to return to the teamsheet. Joe Hart and the first-choice defenders will be back, as well as the more cohesive duo of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in midfield, while Southampton schemer Adam Lallana will have another chance to impress.

With Barkley knocking on the door, Rooney back in the goals and fast-paced, attacking play seemingly encouraged, it could be an exciting summer for England. You don’t get to say that too often.

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