England win battle on all fronts

England 3 Scotland 0: On a day when both teams took on FIFA and won, the 113th match between England and Scotland ended, as it has done rather often in recent history, with three points for the men in white but frustration for those north of the border who left Wembley ruminating on missed chances and wasted opportunities.

Gordon Strachan’s men, for long periods of this World Cup qualifying game, put on a vibrant and hard-working display against a home defence that looked incapable of coping; but missed chances cost them dear as England, more ruthless in their finishing, won with three headed goals from Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill.

The result sees England sit comfortably top of World Cup qualifying Group F with 10 points and will almost certainly result in caretaker manager Gareth Southgate being given the job full-time. It also puts them 48-41 ahead against Scotland in the all-time standings and, barring an unprecedented disaster, on their way to Russia 2018.

On the other side of the fence, there will be increased pressure on Scotland manager Strachan, whose team have gathered only four points in their campaign so far and look like missing out yet again on a major finals.

Despite all that, however, the streaky nature of England’s performance, and the way they wobbled at the back so alarmingly, means the celebrations at Wembley may not enough to convince anyone Southgate’s team have exorcised all their demons and are ready to make a real impact on the world stage.

In fact, the fixture may well be remembered longer for the news-led build-up to the game than the result itself.

Newspaper headlines for the last week have been dominated by a row with FIFA over whether players from both teams could wear poppies on their armbands on Remembrance Day; and in a rare show of unity The FA and SFA jointly defied football’s governing body by insisting they would. It remains to be seen if either Association is fined for the misdemeanour - the suggestion they could lose points was always sensationalist - but the English, at least, have already vowed to challenge the legality of such an action.

A perfectly-respected minute’s silence and playing of the Last Post meant the story moved elsewhere for 90 minutes as a packed Wembley prepared for the latest instalment of football’s oldest rivalry, a fixture that long precedes FIFA and its painful desire to get involved in the minutiae of the game, more often than not to the detriment of it.

Scotland, for instance, played here in pink because somewhere in the dark recesses of a FIFA department it had been decided the two kits of countries which have played each other since 1872 could clash and cause confusion.

It has been 17 years since Scotland won at Wembley, who were the first team to visit the original stadium when it opened in 1924, and they wasted some big opportunities to put that right.

Strachan’s side started the match quicker and with greater intensity and, with England’s defence looking uncertain, should have scored when Grant Hanley was presented with a free header from a corner - only to put it wide. England, captained by a rather unininspired Wayne Rooney who played behind Sturridge up front, made their opponents pay with a rare attack, Tottenham full-back Kyle Walker whipping in a cross which Sturridge stooped to turn home superbly in the 24th minute.

Scotland were presented with an even better chance to silence the enemy in the second-half when, following a fine move, James Forrest had a clear shot at goal but wastefully fired wide. Once again England swept down the other end to score, this time Danny Rose crossing for Lallana to head downwards into the corner of the net.

The third, which came after 61 minutes, saw Rooney’s corner headed home by Cahill - a relief for the Chelsea man who had been having something of a stinker at the back against the hard- working Leigh Griffiths.

So, after all the build up, all the controversy and all the hype, the end result looked pretty convincing as the status quo was maintained; Scotland headed home knowing they still don’t have a striker capable of getting them to major finals, while England enjoyed victory despite the inner knowledge they don’t have a defence capable of making them serious challengers when they eventually make it to Russia at Scotland’s expense.

Oh, and on top of that, FIFA, once again, were made to look a little stupid. Some things never change.

ENGLAND:

Hart 6, Rose 7, Stones 5, Cahill 5, Walker 7, Dier 6, Henderson 6, Lallana 7, Rooney 5, Sterling 6, Sturridge 6 (Vardy 75; 6).

SCOTLAND:

Gordon 5, Anya 6 (Paterson 79; 6), Wallace 6, Hanley 6, Berra 6, Morrison 7 (McArthur 66; 6), Brown 7, Darren Fletcher 7, Forrest 7, Snodgrass 6 (Ritiche 82 6), Griffiths 7.

Referee:

Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)


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