Endgame

by Satish Sekar in Miami © Satish Sekar (June 7th 2014)

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Unscathed – Just

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England’s final warm-up match before the World Cup descended into farce at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. Referee Ricardo Salazar was forced to take the players off the pitch midway through the first half as thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour made it unplayable. Honduras came to defend obdurately by fair means or foul and to smash and grab on the counter-attack.

“I think we were starting to go forward”, Honduran forward Roger Espinoza explained. “I think we were definitely affected a little by that [the break for the bad weather]. I think we started to go forward. A little before that we had a shot on goal and we started pressuring, pressuring, but then it came down”.

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They restricted England to few clear chances. Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge missed two gilt edged chances – a header just over and a shot from the left of the area pulled past the far post. He should have done better. Honduras’ captain and goal-keeper Noel Valladares chose to parry Wayne Rooney’s free-kick when it was easier to catch. The chance was created by a needless foul by Carlos Costly on Jordan Henderson – something of a recurring theme as the match progressed.

Second half substitute Ross Barkley went close and created a chance for Daniel Sturridge whose audacious chip went wide. But the real story was the weather, fierce tackling and no escaping injuries.

Neither Rhyme Nor Reason

England captain Steven Gerrard slammed the fierce tackling of Honduras and performance of the referee Ricardo Salazar before leaving for Brasil. Honduras picked up 5 yellow cards, two for Brayan Beckeles, who was sent off after 66 minutes. Leighton Baines, the victim of some rough tackling, refused to shake hands or exchange shirts with Honduran players after the match.

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ITV was told: I thought there were some horrific tackles for a friendly. I got caught with a bad one,” by Gerrard. “I’m quite frustrated. I thought the ref was poor, the game was interrupted, there was a big one in the first half and they were doing stupid fouls. There was no rhythm, we’re frustrated but relieved at no injuries”.

Horror Show

Celtic defender Emilio Izaguirre Girón was lucky to stay on the pitch. Incensed by what he thought was a dive by Sturridge he kicked the ball at the prone forward from close range – unnecessary, unsportsmanlike and fully deserving of a red card. 

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Izaguirre did not think that England were surprised by the way Honduras played. “We worked very hard”, he said. “Lot of players of Honduras play in Europe, in British, but we try always for the competition of the World Cup not friendly games”.

Gerrard was himself the victim of a bad foul by Luis Garrido, although he at least apologised before being the first Honduran to earn the ire of Salazar. But while some of the Honduran tackling was perhaps reckless, England were hardly angels. Roger Espinoza found himself on the receiving end more than once.

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Sandwiched mid-air between Adam Lallana and Henderson he fell awkwardly. But if Izaguirre was lucky to stay on the pitch, so too was Lallana for a studs showing high tackle on the unfortunate Espinoza.

He couldn’t say if England were surprised by how Honduras played. “We know what we are capable of”, he said. “We know we have a great team and we know we’re going to do well. Perhaps we could have won the game. They could have too, but we just wanted to get practice out of the game”.

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Espinoza shares the ambitions of coach Luís Fernando Suárez. Honduras have never progressed beyond the first round. His ambitions are “to go to the next round,” Espinoza explained “To go as far as we can go”.

Both Izaguirre and Espinoza believe that they can achieve that end. They see their match against France shorn of the talents of Franck Ribèry as crucial, but expect a very tough match against Ecuador – teams which are very familiar with each other as Suárez was Ecuador’s coach in 2006 and current coach of Ecuador Reinaldo Rueda was credited by Suárez as laying the foundations for Honduras. Rueda favours a far more attacking style of play, which ironically meant that Ecuador’s current style is more similar to that of Costa Rica than Honduras’.

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Meanwhile, England have set off for Brasil to acclimatise for a week before the serious business gets under-way. The quandary of how far Roy Hodgson will trust young players like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barclay, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen if Miami was as good a choice for England’s final rehearsals as Manaus. A decision will be taken on whether Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be part of England’s World Cup next week.

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