London (AFP) – England manager Roy Hodgson was forced to defend his tactics after his side narrowly edged 10-man Portugal 1-0 in their final warm-up game prior to Euro 2016.
Hodgson fielded forwards Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy from the start, but despite Portugal losing Bruno Alves to a first-half red card, it took an 86th-minute header from centre-back Chris Smalling for his side to prevail at a subdued Wembley on Thursday.
While Rooney had been expected to support Kane and Vardy from a withdrawn role, he operated as a central striker, with the Leicester City forward and Tottenham Hotspur man in wider positions.
But Hodgson said: “We played with split strikers. When you play with that system, you need your strikers to split.
“If you play with them going down the middle and Rooney in behind them, you’d never be able to defend the wide areas. There might have been moments when they were too wide, but basically speaking, that would have to be their job.”
Rooney sought to draw positives from the fact that despite playing poorly, England had found a way to emerge victorious, as in their previous warm-up games against Turkey and Australia.
“We won the game, but it was always difficult,” he told ITV.
“They went to 10 men and that can happen in football. We were the better team. We need to play better, we know that. But it’s a good sign that we didn’t play well and won the game.
“The manager is working on the three up front. There are 23 men in the squad — it’s about all of us. We are ready. We haven’t been at our best, but we have won the three games.”
England will next take to the field on June 11 when they open their Euro campaign with a Group B fixture against Russia at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.
– Alves apology –
Asked if he had settled on the starting XI for that game, Hodgson told the BBC: “That is difficult and will depend on the night.
“I am happy I have got 16, 17 good players and happy with the options available to us.”
Accentuating the positives, Hodgson hailed England’s “patience and composure” and suggested that a more handsome victory would have created unhealthy expectations.
“We’ll go to France reasonably confident that we can keep this going and also knowing full well that we’re not the finished article,” he said.
“That’s also quite a good thing, because had we won the three games by four goals to nil, everyone would be saying we’ve got to win it now. We’re a young team and I think that would have put too much pressure on.”
Portugal centre-back Alves was shown a straight red card after catching Kane in the head with a dangerously high boot 10 minutes before the break.
Beaten manager Fernando Santos, who was without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe, revealed that Alves had apologised to his teammates afterwards, but praised the way his side had reacted to finding themselves a man down.
“Alves apologised to the group after the match. It was a strong tackle, but it’s not going to happen again,” Santos told his post-match press conference.
“Portugal played well defensively. England tried to attack by the sides and we were good in this position. We protected our defence and England didn’t have many opportunities to score, so we did well with 10 men.”
Portugal complete their preparations for the Euro with a friendly against Estonia in Lisbon on Wednesday.
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