England’s defence had been the overriding concern ahead of the Wembley encounter, but Roy Hodgson’s inability to effectively shoehorn the attacking triumvirate of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy into the same line-up was main issue in the 1-0 win against the 10 men of Portugal.
Smalling’s late header was one of few moments for the sell-out Wembley crowd to shout about, with Vardy and Kane struggling to make an impact either side of Rooney as the Three Lions lacked attacking coherence and edge.
Even the first-half sending off of Bruno Alves for a horrific high challenge on Kane did little to help on a night punctuated by poor passes and choices.
Hodgson, though, declared himself satisfied with England’s display.
“I’m not prepared to accept that we didn’t play well,” he said. “We looked good, we had composure throughout the game and it would have been better to play against 11. We never looked like conceding a goal.
“In every game some people have a really good night, I’m not prepared to stand here and criticise some players. If I start being dissatisfied with three wins against Australia, Turkey and Portugal I’m going to be a hard coach to satisfy.”
England skipper Wayne Rooney was pleased with the win but conceded England will have to play better to make an impression in France.
“We won the game but it was always difficult. 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.
“We are ready. We haven’t been at our best but we have won the three games.”
The struggles of Vardy, Rooney and Kane will dominate much of the post-match conversation, but at least England head into the Group B opener against Russia on the back of a win courtesy of Smalling’s first international goal.
It was an exciting end to a match that started slowly and continued in a similar vein.
Despite Alves’ dismissal, the frustration continued for England until substitute Raheem Sterling superbly bent in a right-footed cross and Smalling darted in to direct a header past Patricio, belatedly giving the home fans something to cheer on a frustrating night.
Hart, Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose, Dier, Alli (Henderson 90), Milner (Wilshere 66), Rooney (Lallana 78), Kane (Sturridge 78), Vardy (Sterling 66).
Rui Patricio, Vieirinha, Bruno Alves, Carvalho (Eder 90), Eliseu, Joao Moutinho (William Carvalho 72), Joao Mario (Andre Gomes 46), Danilo Pereira, Nani (Quaresma 61), Rafa (Fonte 38), Adrien Silva (Renato Sanches 72).
Marco Guida (Torre Annunziata).