England storms past Scotland; France edges Sweden; Italy tops Albania
GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — England captain Wayne Rooney scored twice as his side beat fierce rival Scotland 3-1 in a friendly match at Celtic Park on Tuesday.
England went ahead in the first half through an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain header, before Rooney stuck twice either side of a goal from Scotland's Andrew Robertson in the second half.
"We expected to win the game and we were the better team," Rooney said. "England v Scotland is a massive game, tonight is a fantastic victory against a Scotland team who are in good form and we've come here, shown our class and deserved the victory."
England manager Roy Hodgson made six changes to the side that beat Slovenia 3-1 in a Euro 2016 qualifier at Wembley on Saturday, including replacing Raheem Sterling with Stewart Downing in the starting lineup.
Downing almost made an immediate impression with an assist, but defender Gary Cahill headed Downing's corner wide when unmarked after three minutes.
England kept attacking and Danny Welbeck shot straight at goalkeeper David Marshall two minutes later after Scotland defender Steven Whitaker was caught in possession.
Scotland were backed by a vociferous home crowd inside Celtic Park but failed to create a chance to worry England in the first half, and the visitors duly took the lead in the 32nd minute.
Jack Wilshere floated an ambitious diagonal pass into the Scotland penalty area and picked out the run of his Arsenal teammate Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had darted between Grant Hanley and Robertson before directing a glancing header past Marshall.
Rooney then doubled England's lead two minutes after halftime.
Charlie Mulgrew, unable to keep up with the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain, hauled the attacker to the ground and Scotland failed to clear the resultant free-kick from James Milner.
Luke Shaw drilled the ball low into the penalty area and an attempted clearance from Robertson drifted invitingly in front of Rooney, who headed past halftime substitute goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
Scotland almost replied four minutes later when a looping header from Russell Martin was tipped over the crossbar by Fraser Forster.
But England, through the midfield duo of Wilshere and Milner, seemed to have hold of the game at 2-0 until Robertson gave Scotland fans hope for a dramatic late comeback with a well-taken goal in the 83rd.
The left-back eased past the substitute Sterling, exchanged passes with Johnny Russell, burst into England's penalty area and beat Forster from close range at his near post.
But Rooney dashed Scottish hopes of a comeback two minutes later, smashing in a cutback from Adam Lallana to secure victory with his 46th England goal.
"I don't think we did ourselves justice tonight," Scotland and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher said. "We wanted to do everyone proud tonight but could not do that. We lost goals at bad times, at the start of the second half and then we get back to 2-1 and we lose a goal straight away again."
MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Raphael Varane fired France to a 1-0 win over Sweden in a friendly at Stade Velodrome on Tuesday.
The France captain headed home a corner from Antoine Griezmann in the 83rd minute. His Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema had an opportunity to double the lead from the spot three minutes later but fired his penalty over the bar.
France coach Didier Deschamps made eight changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Albania last week, while an uninspired Sweden side played without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was rested.
France leftback Layvin Kurzawa was replaced in the 78th after pulling his left hamstring.
France dominated possession from the outset to put pressure on Sweden, which almost turned the ball into his own net in the 33rd and the 38th.
The hosts' most spectacular play came in the 31st when midfielder Mathieu Valbuena chested a cross from Dimitri Payet to hit a bicycle kick that sailed wide.
France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac then split the Sweden defense with a through ball for Griezmann in the 36th but a heavy touch from the Atletico Madrid forward allowed goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson to collect the ball.
Sweden, which beat France 2-0 in their previous meeting at Euro 2012, nearly scored against the run of play four minutes before halftime with a spinning shot from Isaac Kiese Thelin but he was denied by goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who made a diving save.
Gignac and Griezmann were again France's most threatening players after the break. Gignac controlled a cut back from Payet in the 49th but had his close-range attempt saved by Isaksson with his right leg. Then Griezmann pounced on a header across goal from Gignac in the 58th for an overhead kick that went wide. Two minutes later, Varane redirected a corner toward Griezmann, whose powerful strike was parried by Isaksson.
The Sweden goalkeeper also stopped an angled shot from substitute Moussa Sissoko in the 79th but was helpless when Varane planted his header into the bottom corner.
Benzema replaced Gignac in the 68th but failed to convert a penalty awarded after substitute Oscar Wendt handled the ball.
Deschamps is enjoying his best season at the helm of the France team with 10 wins, four draws and one loss on the year compared to five wins, two draws and five losses in 2013.
France next hosts Brazil in a friendly in March while Sweden visits Moldova for a Euro 2016 qualifier.
GENOA, Italy (AP) — Stefano Okaka scored on his debut to help Italy beat Albania 1-0 in a friendly match in Genoa on Tuesday.
Okaka headed home a corner seven minutes from time after Italy had missed a string of opportunities.
Sokol Cikalleshi had sent an effort crashing off the post in the first half for Albania.
The match was organized last month to aid the port city's recovery from devastating flooding.
More than half the fans were Albanian, although they sang the Italian anthem before kickoff, and also held up a banner in support of the region's inhabitants.
Three Albania supporters ran onto the pitch, in separate incidents, with one bowing down in front of Lorik Cana and getting the Albania captain to autograph his flag.
Italy coach Antonio Conte had called up another 14 players to join the squad after Sunday's 1-1 draw against Croatia in the European Championship qualifiers.
And he used an experimental starting lineup, handing Emiliano Moretti and Andrea Bertolacci their debuts for Italy's first meeting with Albania.
Alessio Cerci made his first appearance since the World Cup and had the first chance of the match in the 11th minute when his effort was saved by Albania goalkeeper Etrit Berisha at his near post following a delightful through ball from Bertolacci.
Sebastian Giovinco and Marco Parolo also had good chances, while Mattia Destro fired narrowly wide of the right upright shortly after the half-hour mark.
Albania went closest after an error by Lorenzo De Silvestri gifted the ball to Cikalleshi but his strike cannoned off the right upright.
Berisha again denied Cerci on the stroke of halftime, palming away a curled effort.
Giovinco was looking lively and should have scored five minutes after the interval, following more good work from Cerci, but he poked the ball straight at Berisha.
Seconds later a Salvatore Sirigu miscue let in Ermir Lenjani, but he hesitated and the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper recovered.
Okaka was brought on and almost scored with his first touch in international football, only to be denied by another Berisha save on the line.
Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin was also introduced for his debut but it was Francesco Acerbi's first Italy appearance that stood out. The Sassuolo defender was recently given the all-clear after a second bout of testicular cancer.
Okaka — who as a Sampdoria striker plays regularly in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris — marked his debut with his goal from a glancing header that took a deflection off Hamdi Salihi.