England’s World Cup build-up continued with a friendly win over Nigeria at Wembley.
Chelsea defender Gary Cahill celebrated his return to England’s squad and stepped up his claims for a starting place against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June by opening the scoring with a powerful header after only seven minutes.
England’s total first-half domination was emphasised when captain Harry Kane scored his eighth goal in his last seven appearances six minutes before the interval when Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho allowed his 18-yard shot to slip in.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi gave Nigeria’s thousands of fans inside Wembley hope two minutes after the break with a crisp finish but England – who had Raheem Sterling booked for diving – closed out the victory in relatively untroubled fashion.
England’s preparations continue with another friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road on Thursday.
Sterling has dominated the headlines and the build-up to this friendly after he was pictured sporting a tattoo of a gun on his leg and revelations about his late arrival for England’s pre-World Cup training camp when they assembled earlier this month.
And he was a central figure again here at Wembley as manager Gareth Southgate puts the finishing touches to his plans for the World Cup in Russia.
Sterling, whose name was warmly greeted by England’s fans when it was announced, formed a lively partnership with captain Kane – but it was also a day of frustration for the Manchester City attacker.
Southgate, who admitted he briefly considered dropping Sterling after that late arrival to join up with England, will have relished some aspects and the signs of promise in that link with Kane but will demand much greater end product.
Sterling never stopped running and probing but was too wasteful, chipping a good chance wide of the far post in the first half and failing to find the final delivery on occasions.
He was also rightly booked for diving in the second half as he tumbled theatrically when confronted by Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho as he raced into the area.
Sterling’s energy and application, however, could not be doubted and he will play a key role in Southgate’s line-up when their World Cup campaign opens against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June.
Southgate will be studying every performance and every sign as he looks to make those crucial gains ahead of the start of England’s World Cup campaign.
And, with Thursday’s friendly against Costa Rica in Leeds still to come, he will have regarded this meeting with Nigeria as a very useful exercise.
Cahill looks like he is fighting with Leicester City’s Harry Maguire for a place in the starting line-up against Tunisia and he did his case no harm here, not only scoring an early goal with a powerful header but giving a solid defensive performance.
Dele Alli’s place in the team has also been a cause for debate with Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard a potential rival, confirming his reputation as a player who makes things happen with the winner against the Netherlands in Amsterdam in the friendly in March.
Southgate put both players in against Nigeria and there were some good signs as Alli picked passes from deep, as well as getting into the area, while Lingard was busy as usual.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another contender to add creativity in midfield, emerging as a late substitute, but with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson about to re-enter the equation, Southgate faces some interesting choices.
If the object of England’s exercise was to win while delivering a competent performance and providing information for manager Southgate to take forward, then this was satisfactory on all counts.
England’s display must be placed in context. Nigeria were desperately poor in the first 45 minutes and were only enlivened by a host of half-time substitutions and the encouragement of that goal back from Arsenal’s Iwobi.
Southgate, however, will be pleased by the pace and movement shown by his attacking players when they totally dominated the opening 45 minutes, as well as demonstrating a threat at set-pieces that brought Cahill’s seventh-minute goal.
And when Nigeria did finally pose a threat after the break, albeit sporadically, England survived in relative comfort.
England will take a morale-boosting win with the World Cup so close although, inevitably, the pattern and rhythm of this friendly was disrupted by the predictable raft of second-half substitutions.
Southgate will now move on to Costa Rica on Thursday with cautious optimism intact.