Barkley dazzles with a gem of a pass

A 2-0 win over Estonia, with Raheem Sterling netting the second goal, means England can qualify for Euro 2016 with a perfect 10-0 record if they beat Lithuania tomorrow.
A 2-0 win over Estonia, with Raheem Sterling netting the second goal, means England can qualify for Euro 2016 with a perfect 10-0 record if they beat Lithuania tomorrow.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

He earns Man-of-the-Match honours in drab game, including superb assist for Walcott goal

LONDON • Roy Hodgson was right. With England's place at Euro 2016 long since secured, there is a limit to how much can be learnt from their remaining qualifying games.

Friday night brought a ninth consecutive victory in Group E - a 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley - and an illustration that Ross Barkley can captivate as well as infuriate, but Hodgson knew that already.

Barkley performed as he can do, with some beguiling skill on the ball and the odd lapse of concentration, and was announced as the Man of the Match in an insipid game.

It was his finest night in England's colours and when Barkley plays with this freedom and exuberance, it is easy to see why Hodgson sees flashes of Paul Gascoigne in the Everton player.

The pass to set up Theo Walcott for England's first goal - a diagonal 20-metre nutmeg through a congested penalty area - was of that rare variety when it felt like the pot of superlatives might run dry.

MIX AND MATCH

We saw what he can do today. Like all his managers, I had to work hard on his decision-making as to when he struts his stuff, which is fantastic, and when he plays it more simply.

ROY HODGSON, England manager on Ross Barkley

Suffice to say it was an extraordinary piece of individual brilliance, taking out five defenders with one piece of vision and high skill.

Blooded by Hodgson in the run-up to last year's World Cup, Barkley experienced a dip in form last season. However, the 21-year-old has since made a positive start to the new campaign.

"I'm pleased Ross got Man of the Match. We saw what he can do today," Hodgson said. "Like all his managers, I had to work hard on his decision-making as to when he struts his stuff, which is fantastic, and when he plays it more simply."

But Barkley needs a run-out against better opposition - ideally in next month's friendly matches against Spain and France - if he is to prove that he can be a go-to man for England next summer.

Perhaps the most significant development was that this victory, secured by goals from Walcott late in the first half and Raheem Sterling late in the second, sealed England's place among the top seeds at Euro 2016, even without needing to beat Lithuania in their final qualifier in Vilnius tomorrow.

In theory, this should bring a less difficult group at the finals but Hodgson has already made clear he is ambivalent about the draw.

The manager revealed after the game that captain Wayne Rooney (ankle injury), Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, James Milner (all three rested) and Michael Carrick (groin) will all skip the game in Lithuania, when England will look to complete their qualifying campaign with a 10th straight victory.

Defeat left Estonia needing an improbable sequence of events to claim a play-off place but manager Magnus Pehrsson said his well-drilled team would take heart from their qualifying campaign.

"If you look at the development I believe we've had in the last year, if we can have the same this year and even quicker, then we will definitely do everything to qualify for the (2018) World Cup," he said.

"We are not the favourites but that should be the aim for us."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'BARKLEY DAZZLES WITH A GEM OF A PASS'. Print Edition | Subscribe