World Cup: Raheem's pain, Rooney's gain

World Cup: Raheem's pain, Rooney's gain
Gerrard of England speaks with Raheem Sterling of England after he was shown a red card during the International friendly match between England and Ecuador at Sun Life Stadium on June 4, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

International friendly

ECUADOR 2
(Enner Valencia 8, Michael Arroyo 70)

ENGLAND 2
(Wayne Rooney 29, Rickie Lambert 51)

Raheem Sterling's violent act got his manager out of jail. Roy Hodgson has an excuse to play safe.

Barring a disaster in the final friendly against Honduras, Wayne Rooney should find himself pinned to the left flank in England's World Cup opener against Italy.

His tap-in against Ecuador and Sterling's extraordinary lapse of self-control yesterday morning (Singapore time) overshadowed the elephant up front.

Rooney cannot be England's main striker anymore.

Rickie Lambert posed a more incisive attacking threat in the 2-2 draw. Daniel Sturridge offered greater mobility for most of last season.

Rooney laboured behind Sturridge against Peru. But he profited from low expectations against Ecuador. He was adequate on the left. For his cautious manager, that's as good as it needs to get.

After the game, Hodgson stressed his striker's success at ticking all the boxes out wide. "Yes, it's a position he could fill in Brazil," he declared optimistically.

It's a role Rooney has criticised in the past. It's a role that he rarely stayed in yesterday. He slipped out of character frequently. He treated the position like a trip to the in-laws. He couldn't wait to get away.

His presence on the left flank was marginal. He drifted inside at every opportunity, displaying an urgency to knit the pattern of the play. His temperament can suffer when he tiptoes along the game's periphery. When he's involved, he's engaged.

He was focused against Ecuador, but not always tactically disciplined, sometimes following in the footsteps of Ross Barkley rather literally.

Rooney was undoubtedly aware of his Manchester United colleague Antonio Valencia's tendency to go walkabout along his nominated flank. England's new wide man made the most of the space between Valencia and full-back Juan Carlos Paredes. The Italians will be less obliging.

His neat combinations with Barkley proved to be a cutting double-edged sword. Making his full debut, the Everton midfielder shares more characteristics with a young Rooney than the senior player might care to admit.

As the game progressed, Barkley grew in both stature and confidence, forcing the Ecuadorians to retreat. They never quite waved the white flag, but they were always wary.

RISING ROSS

Barkley on the ball, in an England jersey, can make for an incongruous sight.

He generates excitement and uncertainty. He inspires speed and movement in those around him. He makes things happen. He follows the template once laid down by Rooney.

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