MIAMI GARDENS, Florida (AP) — Rarely has tapping in a goal provided such relief for Wayne Rooney.
With pressure building after a four-game England goal drought, the striker bundled the ball over the line from close range against Ecuador on Wednesday for a goal that lacked finesse or power but was a timely confidence boost ahead of the World Cup.
“It’s a great joy to score for England,” Rooney said after the 2-2 draw at the Sun Life Stadium. “I was obviously pleased to score to get us back in the game.”
Rooney’s 39th international goal canceled out Enner Valencia’s eighth-minute header, nudging the ball over the line after Rickie Lambert hit the post. Lambert found the net himself six minutes into the second half after 20-year-old Ross Barkley weaved his way through the defense with ease.
But Michael Arroyo powered in equalizer from distance in the 70th in his team’s final game before playing Switzerland at the World Cup on June 15.
“We have to improve aspects of our game to be ready for the start of the World Cup,” Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda said.
Both teams ended this feisty encounter with 10 men at the Sun Life Stadium after Raheem Sterling was dismissed in the 79th minute for a sliding challenge on Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia, who saw red for pushing the Englishman and going to grab his throat. The players will not be suspended for World Cup matches.
“I am sorry for the fight with Sterling,” Valencia said. “I apologized to the team after the match and the coach.”
England coach Hodgson accepted Sterling’s challenge was fierce, but believes it didn’t constitute a red card.
“He played the ball and accelerated into the ball,” Hodgson said.” I’m disappointed with Antonio’s reaction, grabbing the player.”
Hodgson’s greater concern was midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming off with suspected ligament damage in his right knee — just 10 days before England’s World Cup opener against Italy.
As Hodgson tested the depth of his squad in its penultimate World Cup warm-up match, only Rooney was retained from the side that beat Peru 3-0. He featured on a team sheet that was mistakenly distributed around the stadium featuring the passport numbers of both teams’ players. The private English details were also tweeted out globally by an England team sponsor.
After that blunder, England’s defenders responded with mishaps of their own, looking disjointed and giving the Ecuadoreans space to express themselves and unsettle their opponents.
Defenders Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling allowed Enner Valencia to rise between them to meet Walter Ayovi’s cross with a header past Ben Foster, who was deputizing in goal for Joe Hart. There were several uneasy moments for Foster when he was exposed after racing off his line.
For all the lapses at the back, England was playing with a confidence and verve at times up front that was lacking against Peru despite the margin of victory. Barkley, the England midfielder earning his fourth cap, was providing flashes of dynamism, typified by a backheel to Rooney, who could only clip the ball across the face of goal.
After stand-in captain Frank Lampard tested goalkeeper Maximo Banguera with a long-range powerful strike, Rooney netted in the 29th despite being shunted out to the left wing. Meeting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross, Banguera collided with his own player, and Lambert appeared to use his hand to control the ball before backheeling against the post.
Rooney came close again twice before the break, stabbing the ball wide and sending a stinging strike into Banguera’s hands.
Like England, Ecuador also struggled to contain counterattacks while launching several of its own.
England’s second goal followed a superb move. Barkley held off Frickson Erazo and Carlos Gruezo to waltz through opposition territory and set up Lambert for a powerful strike. The 32-year-old Lambert’s third England goal came less than a year after making his debut.
But England’s defense was breached again with a fine leveler. Just two minutes after coming off the bench, Arroyo picked up possession on the edge of the penalty area and sent it into the top corner.
“A large number of the opportunities they created for themselves were when we were really attacking, we were going forward,” Hodgson said. “Maybe what we’ve got to make certain is that we shore up a little bit behind some of these attacking movements.”