England sleepwalk past Estonia to maintain unbeaten record
LONDON -- Three things from England 2-0 Estonia in Euro 2016 qualifying on Friday night.
1. England dull but remain perfect
Watching paint dry, completing a tax return or washing the dishes all appeared to be tantalising prospects in comparison to the football on offer during England's 2-0 win against Estonia on Friday night.
In front of a half-interested crowd of 75,427 with seemingly nothing better to do, Roy Hodgson's men laboured in one of the dullest victory laps seen in goodness knows how long.
England returned to Wembley on Friday night fresh from their 2-0 victory over Switzerland last month, a result that secured qualification for Euro 2016 as Group E winners, but instead of putting on a show, they went through the motions.
At one point it was so quiet you could hear sporadic conversations from the disinterested Wembley masses, with nothing on the pitch sufficient enough to alleviate the ennui. Theo Walcott, that man again, finally helped Wembley awake from its slumber with a neat finish in what turned out to be the last kick of the first half. Raheem Sterling added another goal late on to underline the home side's dominance.
This was a match for players to make their case for a place in the squad next summer, although with the caveat: "It's only Estonia." Even so, Walcott grabbed his customary goal while Ross Barkley shone in the game's noteworthy performance.
Hodgson made five changes from the win over Switzerland, a match notable for Wayne Rooney's 50th goal for England. Sir Bobby Charlton, the country's greatest ever player, awarded Rooney a golden boot trophy ahead of kickoff to recognise his achievement, although the misfiring Manchester United striker is not the man with the Midas touch these days.
Out of form and injured, Rooney missed this win, and in his absence Tottenham's Harry Kane, another player who has found Premier League goals hard to come by so far, led the line. While Walcott's finishing ability was a nod to Hodgson, Kane had a night to forget. He wasn't alone, though -- everyone watching this did too.
You felt for Sir Bobby. A national hero, World Cup winner and second-leading scorer in England's history deserved more than being put through such an excruciatingly dull performance.
Credit to England's fans, though. Over 75,000 for a meaningless match against an unfashionable team on a Friday night deserves some respect.
2. Walcott strikes again
Just where has the time gone? Walcott is eligible for a testimonial in January, having been at Arsenal for 10 years. There's a tendency for people to still talk about his "potential," but at 26 and facing a critical season at club level now that he's been trusted as a centre-forward, he has to deliver.
Walcott will tell anyone who listens that he is a centre-forward, but it appears Hodgson needs convincing. Ridiculously employed as a No. 10 in the friendly draw with Italy in March, Walcott wilted and hasn't been given the chance to stake his claim in the position he craves for his country.
He started on the right of a front three at Wembley, stinging the palms of Estonia goalkeeper Mihkel Aksalu early on. But as we yawned toward half-time, Walcott took it upon himself to sort things out and finally give the home crowd something to cheer about.
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Meeting a delicious pass from the bright Barkley, Walcott slipped home his seventh goal in nine games for club and country. Composure has been the Arsenal man's undoing so far in his career, but the early stages of this season suggest he's improving.
An impressive 12 in 14 Premier League starts for Arsenal hint at his aptitude as a central striker, and considering he's being mentored by Thierry Henry, there's every chance for Walcott to develop into the threat in this position he believes he can be.
3. Barkley bossing it
It was disheartening to see some sections of Everton's support get on Barkley's back last season, but his difficulties in 2014-15 are quickly being forgotten.
With seven assists for club and country so far this season, he has already managed more in 2015-16 than in the four previous campaigns combined. He has set up Walcott's last two goals for England, and it's refreshing to see a strongly built player with such poise. Squint a bit, and that could be a 21-year-old Rooney pounding the turf and running at defenders.
Capable with both feet, Barkley is enjoying a sublime start to the season. He's still a rough diamond, though, as exemplified by a short spell just after half-time. Brilliantly striding toward goal, leaving Estonian defenders scared to halt him, Barkley ran all of 60 yards before flopping in the penalty area without shooting. His decision-making will improve, but at least he has enviable raw materials to work with.
Moments later he beat two men and rifled wide, the latest episode in what threatened to turn into The Ross Barkley Show. He was cruelly denied a deserved goal when, having danced through a couple of challenges, he fired toward goal only for Aksalu to deny him.
The Everton midfielder was excellent here and is an incredibly exciting player -- if a little frustrating -- who will enjoy more nights like this.
Alex Shaw is General Editor at ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @AlexShawESPN.