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Jun 7, 2014

No injuries in another Miami draw

The Men in Blazers, Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, discuss whether a new generation of younger, faster English football players will succeed in Brazil or if they will wilt under the pressure of expectations that come with donning the English jerseys.

Wayne Rooney and England could find no goals against Honduras.

England could not find a way past 10-man Honduras in a goalless draw in their final friendly before the World Cup on Saturday.

Miami twice

Two matches in Miami, two draws. England fly overnight to Rio having discovered that the Americas are definitely not a comfortable place to play for those from a green and pleasant land.

Just like Ecuador and indeed Peru in London last Friday, Honduras were opponents who belied the term friendly. English concern must lie in the fact that 10 men were not beaten. Daniel Sturridge was three times guilty of missing a target well within sight. A great deal of faith is being placed in him by Roy Hodgson, and the concern is that his rather lacklustre late-season Liverpool form is being replicated.

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Confidence can be a problem for England's number nine, and he certainly did not finish with the coolness that new Liverpool colleague Rickie Lambert did on Wednesday. With questions over Wayne Rooney and his ability to fit into a fluid attacking system, it might help if the player designated as the central striker could start hitting the target. The wonderful whipped finish that Sturridge scored at Wembley was not replicated.

A shock of the lightning

Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening. And also the source of a 30-minute delay as England's attempts to work out how to play in the tropics suffered another lesson in unpredictability.

Roy Hodgson was to be seen cursing the conditions but then put in a philosophical performance in a lengthy TV interview during the break in play. "I've encountered it here in Florida on golf courses, when they're obviously very eager to get you back inside," he said. "We can only accept and appreciate the referee's decision. These are facts of life, we just have to get on with it. All we can do is wait."

Positives were also spun over the lack of chances for his players to get injured if the game were to be called off. This proved to be tempting fate's brutality.

As soon as the game restarted at 22 minutes, Hodgson was grimacing as Adam Lallana, Sturridge and Steven Gerrard all came off worst in heavy challenges. Then Leighton Baines got a knock.

Whomever selected Honduras as friendly opposition clearly overlooked that this is a team that plays hard. Phil Jones' dodgy shoulder was dislocated on the gargantuan torso of Maynor Figueroa, after all, and the Hull man's colleagues are no less strong-arm in their tactics. Emilio Izaguirre's hack at Sturridge was petulance, and unbecoming of players who know that any injury now would kill off an opponents' World Cup campaign. Four yellow cards were brandished at reckless Hondurans before Brayan Beckeles was dismissed. If you are having a bet on discipline at the World Cup, the Central Americans could be good value.

Still, perhaps it was all good practice for when the games truly are competitive, and the Brazilian weather lies in the lap of the gods. At least injuries were avoided.

Barkley gives another good account

Rooney, as always, was a significant point of debate. He became the sole player to start against all three of England's Latin American warm-up opponents. In the 15th minute it seemed as if he had something of an injury, though it was swiftly run off. A loose backheel soon after killed a decent move that had been carved out by the industrious Welbeck.

A pre-thunder dummy set up Daniel Sturridge for a wonderful chance that was worryingly wafted wide. Perhaps Sturridge could blame his miss on the stormy weather; this was the passage of play that preceded the break in play.

Rooney seemed -- at times -- to have got used to the idea of varying his position and making it fit with the rest of the team. He did not surge with the intent that Ross Barkley did from the number 10 position against Ecuador, but there was better use of his experienced football brain than there had been against Peru. Hodgson has played his star player in each warm-up with the clear aim of increasing his match fitness.

Barkley's replacement of Rooney meant that Hodgson would not be ducking the issue that has been thrown his way, and to his clear annoyance. Within two minutes, Barkley was booming a shot wide of goal after making one of his trademark accelerations.

Without question, England's attacks fizz far more when Barkley is around. Hodgson's post-match grumbles on Wednesday centered on the Everton prodigy's failures to track back, but played slightly farther forward here, Barkley was just as potent a threat. His very first touch saw him lose possession, and his coach was quick to remind him of this during a break in play. At the moment, the benefits of Barkley fully outweigh the negatives his rawness provides. Can the same be said of Rooney? The jury remains out.

Full-back follies

Has England's right-back spot become their equivalent of the Spinal Tap's drummer's stool? Glen Johnson looked as nervy and loose as James Milner did against Ecuador. In fact, it mirrored Johnson's performance against Peru. This used to be a nation of decent right-backs -- current assistant coach Gary Neville was perhaps the best of all -- and even dear Danny Mills did a creditable shift at the 2002 World Cup.

Milner is a decent footballer, and adaptable, too. However, the role of full-back has moved on in the past decade. They must be both forceful in attack, and strong in defence. Let's just say that Johnson is no Dani Alves or Philipp Lahm, and Milner even less so. At the moment, he is not even Danny Mills. Johnson is a better defender as a left-back, which might have been of use to England in the light of Luke Shaw's inexperience if there was a serviceable replacement for him on the right.

England's opponents will no doubt have scouted that this is a weak spot. Hodgson's chosen formation does rather expose the full-backs when midfielders and forwards tend to arrow infield rather than hold their positions on the flanks.