Everton have won a cup! It barely deserves capitalizing, but the Toffees beat Colombian outfit Millonarios in an extended penalty shootout to lift the Florida Cup in Orlando as part of their preseason tour of the United States. All three new signings had a part to play - Andros Townsend had clattered the bar after letting his man score on a corner, but substitute Demarai Gray coolly slotted home a spotkick during normal time to tie the game, while Asmir Begovic made a number of saves and then scored his penalty before denying his opposite number to win it for the Blues.
We got our first look at an Everton side led by Rafa Benitez, and the thing to remember is that this is a work in progress. The manager has only had a couple of weeks of preseason training, and that too without the full complement of players. However, he will have been heartened by the contributions of the trio of new Blues.
“More than the just the new signings, I am pleased with the attitude of the team. It’s not easy at the beginning of the season when you are not fully fit and to play these kinds of games when it’s hot.
“In the first half we had some chances but we didn’t play at the level we were expecting, but the reaction of the team was very good. I was very happy and pleased with the second half and overall with the workrate of the team.”
The expectation when Gray was signed was that he would provide the Blues with wing depth, but he seemed to line up more centrally as a second striker, a position that he is familiar with from Leicester City.
“When we signed him I knew him really well from his time in Leicester. I knew that he could play in the free position behind the striker, but I like him in this position as he has the ability and the pace.
“We have wingers in Iwobi, Gordon and Townsend so we had the opportunity to play him there and he did really well. His movement is good, he was a threat. He was good, and defending too he was well-organized.
“It’s still early with the fitness and everything but I was really pleased with what I could see from him and the rest of the team.”
A good pre-season workout. Next up: @PumasMX. @rafabenitezweb reflects on tonight's @Florida_Cup outing. pic.twitter.com/oeWNNsjf4r— Everton (@Everton) July 26, 2021
Veteran goalkeeper Begovic was the matchwinner for the Blues and deservedly picked up the Man of the Match trophy.
“We were looking for a keeper with experience that could help the team, and he did really well today and I think he will be pushing.
“When you want to win, the competition between players is a key situation you have to manage from the beginning until the end of the season if it is possible.”
A Colombian journalist posed the question to the manager on how he rated James Rodriguez performance tonight, and how important he was to Rafa’s plans for the club.
“At the beginning of preseason it is not easy. You could see he has the quality on the ball but still the fitness is not what we are expecting, It’s normal at this time.
“We will see how it’s going on with more training sessions and games. Every player can make a difference or not. At the moment it’s just to see how they progress and improve, but no one can argue about the quality of James.”
Benitez was asked if he was surprised with how well Millonarios played to begin the game.
“Not really. We had seen some clips of the team and we knew they were well-organized and could play good football. They did it especially in the first half, but in the second half we had more energy, we were quicker on the ball and more dangerous on the counterattack.
“I’m really pleased the fans enjoyed a good game.”
A short presser with most of the British media not staying up this late to attend the media briefing that was held virtually, but Benitez hit on all the key points.
RBM has two writers in Orlando for the week and if you haven’t been following our Twitter feed yet, get on it for exclusive content from Everton’s American tour.