Begovic The Hero In Everton Shootout

Demarai Gray was signed by Everton to provide speed and guile and service, the ability to go past players, too.

But he scores goals into the bargain – and Gray needed only 18 minutes in an Everton shirt to get his first after signing from Bayer Leverkusen three days ago.

Asmir Begovic? Well, he was brought in to stop the ball going in the net. To find the net, not so much.

This Florida Cup match, however, was deep into a penalty shootout – both teams had scored nine and failed from the spot once – when Begovic took over.

He’d made a splendid stop from Ricardo Marquez – Millonarios’ second taker – when it fell to Begovic to step up.

The Bosnian once hit the target from 97.5 yards, in a game for Stoke City against Southampton, to claim the world record for the ‘longest goal scored in football’.

Turns out he’s pretty good from 12 yards, too, Begovic crashing down the middle beyond goalkeeper Juan Esteban Moreno.

Begovic duly strode back to his line to repel the effort from his opposite number and win this pre-season trophy for Everton.

Gray scored Everton’s second penalty, adding to the one he converted in regulation time to draw Everton level after coming on for the second half.

This goes down as a fine start for Begovic and Gray – for Andros Townsend, too, who rattled the frame of the goal when Everton were one down.

Granted, this was a pre-season friendly in an alien environment – Everton won’t play many Premier League games in these types of sweltering conditions – and against opponents way in advance in terms of stamina and fitness, with the Colombian season under way.

Millonarios, though, dipped after half-time, never looking like adding to the goal they scored when on top after 18 minutes.

Everton, by contrast, found their stride – perhaps aided by five pairs of fresh legs introduced for the second half – and assumed control.

The change was epitomised by the passage of play leading to Gray’s equaliser. Millonarios’ confidence in possession was deserting them and Andre Gomes seized on a loose pass out of defence.

Gomes fed Nathan Broadhead, who was upended by goalkeeper Moreno, on at half-time.

Gray, spying an opportunity to score a debut goal – and sufficiently confident not to worry about the alternative – grabbed the ball and drilled his strike from 12 yards inside Moreno’s right post.

The goal which put Millonarios in front was the product of a potent cocktail of skill, perseverance and good fortune.

To the skill first, provided by the flashing left boot of Harrison Mojica.  

Millonarios won a corner on the right, Ben Godfrey speeding across to intervene when Jorge Renfico dashed into the box – a slick piece of defending coming at the cost of a set-piece.

Mojica applied pace and dip to the whipped delivery, met by the head of Andres Llinas.

Llinas had already been denied once, Begovic diving right to repel the centre-half’s shot on the turn after a ball was stood up from the left by Elvis Perlaza.

The woodwork prevented Llinas on this occasion, only for luck to go the way of the player from Bogota.

Llinas’ momentum simultaneously propelled him forwards and spun him round, so his back was to goal when the ball hit the player’s heel and rebounded over the line.

Begovic, who got down sharply to his left to parry a shot from buccaneering right-back Felipe Roman shortly before half-time, wasn’t alone in playing his first football for Everton from the start.

The keeper joined on the same day as Townsend last week and here the pair were immediately thrust into action.

Townsend needed only three minutes for an attempt at goal, the ball leaving the forward’s right foot 25 yards out and skipping into the midriff of Christian Vargas.

Vargas, however, was powerless to do anything but cross his fingers when Townsend next took aim.

The starting Millonarios goalkeeper would have twice counted his blessings, in fact, when his side retained their lead three minutes before half-time.

He made a meal of a cross from Abdoulaye Doucoure – energetic beside the equally tenacious Allan in midfield – shovelling the ball untidily for a corner.

Millonarios cleared the initial set-piece and the ball was helped further forwards by a second meaty touch.

Lucas Digne intercepted, however, James Rodriguez taking over and delivering the ball to the far post from the left.

Townsend controlled and arrowed a left-footed effort that slammed against the frame of Vargas’ goal.

Everton were prepared to go long to search out Townsend and Moise Kean, running beyond Millonarios’ backline.

Colombian James, meanwhile, was invariably involved when Everton funnelled play through the field.

The South American, given a welcome by fans of Millonarios to reflect his standing at home, prompted and probed to spark a fluid Everton move on 26 minutes.

It ended with Townsend escaping down the right and crossing, marginally out of range of the fast-arriving James but picking out Kean, who was penalised for an inadvertent handball.

Kean made much better contact on the half hour – Digne providing the service from the left but the Italian forward heading narrowly over.

Millonarios, already two games into a new season after wrapping up their previous campaign last month, were sharp in their passing and movement.

Stirker Fernando Uribe, who had his side’s first effort on target but directed weakly at Begovic, bounced a first-time pass back for Rengifo after some fabulous combination play around Everton’s box.

Rengifo, though, lacked composure at the pivotal moment, swinging his left leg through the ball and aiming too high.

Seamus Coleman, for a foul on David Silva, and Juan Pereira, for a high boot on Digne, went into the book one after the other before the break.

Right-back Coleman was one of five who didn’t reappear for the second half.

And it was three of those who came on that combined for Everton’s goal.

Gomes, who used the ball very well in his 45 minutes on the pitch, collected a loose ball and quickly transferred it into Broadhead’s forward run.

Moreno, on for Vargas, tore out feet first and upended the Welshman, leaving Gray the initial task of claiming the penalty, with plenty putting their hands up, then driving inside the left post.

Alex Iwobi and Godfrey lasted longest of Everton's outfield starters.

And of Iwobi’s 73 minutes on the field, the 28 after half-time were the best of it.

He was excellent as Everton grew into the game, Rafael Beitez's team now hurrying Millonarios into mistakes and putting the South American team on the rack.

Iwobi traded passes with Allan before feeding Broadhead for a low shot which travelled narrowly wide.

There was a low pass into the box which narrowly evaded Gray and when Iwobi did locate Gray, a stabbed ball found Anthony Gordon, who was foiled by a terrific Roman last-ditch challenge.

Broadhead, operating up front, with Gray behind the striker, was tireless and imaginative with his running.

Clever on the ball, too, and he tricked his way into space on 79 minutes, evading Llinas on halfway and running away from the defender.

Arriving in the penalty area, Broadhead was met by Moreno, spreading himself to save a strike intended for the far corner.

Gray was over from distance in stoppage time, setting the stage for penalties.

Michael Keane and Gray scored before Anthony Gordon’s strike rattled the bar, hit Moreno on the back and trickled to safety.

Gomes, Broadhead, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, impudently, Lewis Gibson, Jonjoe Kenny – with a form of Panenka penalty – Tom Davies and Joe Anderson were all successful.

So, too, crucially, was Begovic.

Starting XI:
Begovic, Coleman, Holgate, Godfrey, Digne; Doucoure, Allan; Iwobi, James, Townsend; Kean.

Second-half: Begovic, Kenny, Holgate (Keane, 61), Godfrey (Gibson ’73), Digne (Anderson, 61); Allan (Gbamin, 61), Gomes; Iwobi (Davies ’73), Gray, Gordon; Broadhead.