LONDON, Wembley – Ashley Young proved to be the difference between England and Wales with his third goal for the Three Lions. England’s first victory at Wembley in over more than one year came in an entirely unconvincing fashion. Nonetheless Capello’s team are now on the verge of qualifying for the EURO2012 finals.
Englandcan breathe a sigh of relief after a poor performance against the stubborn Welsh. The home side struggled against the tight-marking visitors and a worrying lack of creativity didn’t help to break down the Welsh defense. In the 76th minute England were let off the hook when Robert Earnshaw, who had replaced Morrison earlier on, missed an absolute sitter. Darcy Blake’s nod back fell to Earnshaw with the goalkeeper nowhere near and the goal gaping, but somehow he managed to spoon it over from just a few yards out.
Fabio Capello had promised to give the England fans an encouraging performance, but right from the start England it became apparent that England were in for a though night as Rooney and co struggled to impose their will against a Welsh side that sat back deep and constantly had 8 or 9 players behind the ball. The midfield trio, led by Frank Lampard, failed to dictate the play and, despite trying to open up the game via the wings, England found it hard to create a clear-cut chance and never really threatened Hennessey. England simply did not seem to entertain the thought of two-touch football. It would be a reoccurring pattern throughout the 90 minutes.
After 8 minutes John Terry opened hostilities heading an Ashley Young cross just wide. On the right side Stuart Downing proved to be lively, but he delivered only half-decent crosses. The same Downing tried a scissors kick just before the half-hour mark, but it was not a night for great antics and his attempt flew skywards.
A static England were slowly getting frustrated and nervy, but Ashley Young’s third senior England goal provided relief: Downing danced his way past Welsh right-back Ledley before cutting back to Young who slammed it in at the near post from 10 yards. It was the breakthrough that England needed against a Welsh side, who had until Young’s goal rarely been in trouble.
Walesproduced very little in the final third of the field with Gary Speed surprisingly opting to play his star player Gareth Bale on the right, fitting him against the experienced Ashley Cole rather than the suspect Chris Smalling. Could Wales muster anything in the offensive compartment in the second half?
If the first half was bleak from England’s point of view, the second half turned nearly into a nightmare. The longer the game went on, the worse it got. Not that Wales besieged Joe Hart at any stage. On the contrary, the Dragons hardly got out of their own half and when in possession seemed at a loss to do something with it.
Yet in a game of few chances, Wales were bound to get a decent sight of goal once. A glorious opportunity fell to Robert Earnshaw just inside the last 15 minutes of the game. The Cardiff City player received the ball unmarked inside the box with Joe Hart at his mercy, but he blasted it over to the disbelief of the Wales coaching staff on the sideline and to huge cheers of the Wembley crowd.
The Welsh fans did not lose their sense of humor for it and sang: ‘Fourth in the World, you are having a laugh.’ It poignantly summed up England’s night. England produced one good move during the entire 90 minutes and it was enough to ensure the three points, but apart from the fortuitous victory – Wales deserved a draw – there were precious, little positives to take from the game. England returned to their bad, old habits and the only possible comfort is that both Downing and Young managed to not be dragged down to the level of the players alongside them.
After a desperate evening at Wembley, England have moved closer to EURO2012. With one point needed away to Montenegro to book England’s ticket for next year’s finals, a big improvement will be required from the Three Lions. So once more, it’s back to the drawing board for Fabio Capello.