Phlegmatic England boss Roy Hodgson insists his side’s high-profile friendlies in the build-up up to next summer’s finals will prove the acid test of their Euro 2016 credentials after an experimental troop cantered to victory in Lithuania last night.
Strikes from Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, either side of an own goal from goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis saw England make light work of the artificial surface in Vilnius. Lithuania’s manager Igoris Pankratjevas, meanwhile, resigned in the immediate aftermath.
Victory ensured England boast a flawless qualifying campaign, becoming only the sixth nation to go through European Championship qualifying with a 100 per cent record, albeit having been handed a relatively modest draw.
England now face friendly matches against Spain and France next month, and then Germany and Holland, clashes which Hodgson accepts will gauge his side’s ability to avoid a repeat of their dismal 2014 World Cup showing in Brazil.
“We will use them to learn and use them to see where we are,” said Hodgson. “We will be playing teams who have shown they can do well in competitions and they are more likely to show up any defects in our game than we were able to see tonight.
“We know in a qualifying group like this, if we concentrated and played properly we could do very well and we did exceptionally well on this occasion.
“It would have been a surprise had we not qualified but now we know also that we are going to come across better opposition, stronger opposition, teams which are more capable of causing us problem than we have found in the last couple of games.”
England are now unbeaten in 14 qualifying away games dating back to defeat in Ukraine in 2009 and were purposeful throughout the first half only for Arlauskis to deny Harry Kane three times in the opening half hour.
Arlauskis, who is on the books of Watford, was powerless to repel England’s opener in the 29th minute as Barkley’s deflected 20-yard shot glided beyond him.
Rookie stopper Jack Butland had to be alert to repel forward Lukas Spalvis’s shot 10 minutes before the break – Lithuania’s first and only meaningful attack – and England doubled their lead moments later.
Kane exchanged passes with the lively Adam Lallana before his low, drilled effort struck the base of the post and rebounded into the net off the head of a prone Arlauskis.
There was further frustration for Kane as Arlauskis foiled him and Barkley with a downward header before Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker slipped in north London club rival Oxlade-Chamberlain to blast through the 27-year-old at his near post.
Fringe benefits for Three Lions?
Adam Lallana: The Liverpool man showcased nice touches and set-up England’s second goal with a brisk one-two with Kane. He and Barkley were the brightest sparks for England on a comfortable evening, and neither did their future chances any harm at all.
Jack Butland: A virtual spectator all evening although he did demonstrate that crucial goalkeeping commodity – concentration. He denied Spalvis 10 minutes before half time, which amounted to Lithuania’s only noteworthy effort at goal.
Jamie Vardy: Always offers hard graft but failed to impose himself in the attacking third and carried minimal goal threat against modest opposition. Picked up a soft booking for an infringement at a defensive wall.
Ross Barkley: Sharp and creative. Positive in possession and flirted with a polished performance. His goal made it five for club and country this season. Given a breather and withdrawn after 73 minutes.