The English were in complete control of their Group C curtain-raiser against African first-timers Rwanda from the opening whistle at the Estadio Hidalgo in Pachuca. Hitting the woodwork three times in the opening period, the Europeans failed to take full advantage of their many chances. In the end it mattered little as Hallam Hope and Raheem Sterling’s goals were more than enough for the win.
After hearing their anthem played at a FIFA finals for the first time, the young men from Rwanda had a difficult time living up to the proud occasion. The English, on the other hand, developed their organized style straight away. As early as the tenth minute they had carved out a fine scoring chance when a long ball from the defence was collected by Crewe Alexandra’s Nicholas Powell, who cut inside at the corner of the penalty area. The ball was then laid back for the onrushing Raheem Sterling, who slammed from 20 yards against Marcel Nzarora’s upright.
As the Africans – who finished runners-up as hosts in their CAF qualifiers – failed to find a foothold, the English were in total control. They hit the post again in the 19th minute when Jake Caskey’s low free-kick from the right was met by Everton striker Hope, but the qualifying top scorer’s poked shot from close-range was slightly deflected by the goalkeeper and went out off the woodwork.
The first chance of note for the yellow, blue and green-clad Africans came in the dying moments of the opening period. After running on to a fine through ball, Justin Mico failed to make clean contact and England keeper Jordan Pickford gobbled up the shot from eight yards. England responded just seconds later, but Hope’s header was again denied by the post, which was proving Rwanda’s best defender.
England started the second half the same way they finished the first, piling pressure on the despairing Africans. Hope had two chances to score in the first three minutes, but his close-range header flew over the bar and then, through on a breakaway, he was denied by a fine save from Nzarora. He repeated the dose in the 59th minute when he got hold of the ball after a defensive mix-up, but could only fire inches wide with his spinning shot.
England and Hope finally found their breakthrough, but only after Rwanda nearly took the lead. Bonfils Kabanda fired a wicked shot off the crossbar from the edge of the area and, just seconds later, the ball was in the other net. Hope muscled his man and gathered a long ball, finishing with an elegant chip over Nzarora in the 68th minute. Liverpool man Sterling added a second in the dying moments of the game, his curling shot leaving Rwanda's keeper no chance.
It proved the last goal of a largely forgettable affair, one in which the English could, and should, have scored more. The victors next face Canada on 22 June, while the Rwandans will be eager to turn things around that same day against section leaders Uruguay.