England’s World Cup team must have felt right at home when it ran onto the Sun Life Stadium field Wednesday afternoon for what turned out to be a spirited — at times not-so-friendly — 2-2 warm-up match against Ecuador.
A light drizzle fell from the gray sky, thousands of fans in the stands wore English jerseys (some still in retired David Beckham’s No. 7), and banners hung on the walls from fans representing English club teams West Brom, Southampton, Manchester City, Everton, Ipswich, Norwich, and dozens more.
Oh, yes, there was even a skirmish between a Liverpool player and a Manchester United player.
There were an equal number of yellow-clad Ecuadorean fans there to see their World Cup team. The crowd of 21,534 was less than half what is expected for Saturday’s England versus Honduras match, largely because Wednesday’s kickoff was 3 p.m. to accommodate British television broadcasts, but it was a lively audience and there was no shortage of action on the field.
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Despite his No. 10 shirt, Wayne Rooney was shifted from the center to left wing after going scoreless the past four matches, and he delivered, ending a scoring drought that had English fans fretting. Both teams finished with 10 men.
Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, a 19-year-old Jamaican-born winger, was ejected with a red card in the 79th minute after he slid into the ankles of Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia and knocked him over. Valencia, who plays for Manchester United, was also thrown out with a red because he retaliated by shoving Sterling and grabbing him from behind his neck.
Lucky for them, the cards do not carry over to the World Cup. Sterling is expected to miss Saturday’s match.
“I’m disappointed,” said England coach Roy Hodgson.
“I thought it was a fierce, but fair challenge,” Hodgson continued.
“He played the ball, but just accelerated into the challenge. I’m disappointed with Antonio’s reaction to it. I think had he not jumped up and grabbed him by the throat there’d have been no problems. But, of course, when that happens, then the referee has to deal with the situation, and as is so often in these cases, both players get sent off.”
Ecuador scored first, in the eighth minute, when Enner Valencia got between England defenders Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling and headed in a goal.
Rooney equalized after tucking in a close-range shot that bounced off a defender and off the back heel (and maybe hand) of Rickie Lambert. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who injured his knee later in the match, sent in the cross. Lambert and captain Frank Lampard both made a point to congratulate Rooney, who had been under fire back home for playing better for club than country.
Ross Barkley, playing the No. 10 role in the middle, drove in through the defense and fed Lambert with a through ball for a 51st-minute goal that gave The Three Lions the lead. It has been quite a week for Lambert, who just signed with Liverpool.
But 19 minutes later, Ecuador tied it. Substitute Michael Arroyo had just come on and found a surprising bit of space 20 yards out. He had time to settle and take aim, and then launched a rocket of a shot past goalkeeper Ben Foster.
The Ecuadorean fans went wild.
“I thought Wayne Rooney played really, really well,” Hodgson said. “I think Ross Barkley had some good moments. But he lost the ball an awful lot of times, as well. I think he needs to learn when he can turn with the ball and when he’s gotta keep the ball, but I think that’s quite normal for a player of his age . I think he’ll be quite happy to have played so long [83 minutes] in his first start for England.”
Hodgson played midfielder James Milner at right back, and was pleased to know he could play there in a pinch. “We have other options at right back, but it’s nice to know James can do that job. He never disappoints us, always brings his straw to the water.’’
England chose Miami because weather conditions here are similar to Brazil, and Hodgson said Wednesday’s test was perfect.
“We certainly learned a lot,” Hodgson said. “Even though it wasn’t sunny, it was certainly humid out there. The pitch is in excellent condition, but is quite sticky, so the ball doesn’t travel very fast on that pitch, which means you have to work very hard to get the ball back when you lose it. All things we’re happy to have practiced and will be interesting with a different set of players against Honduras. If they cope as well as players today, we go to Brazil and Manaus feeling we’ve had an ideal preparation here in Miami.”
Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda also was pleased with the tuneup.
“We’ve had three great tuneup matches and this was one more test, going up against players like Rooney and Lampard and Oxlade-Chamberlain,’’ Rueda said after the match.
“We had good intensity, reacted when we had to, and this was great preparation for Brazil.”