There is a theory doing the rounds that the general feeling about England’s chances ahead of Euro 2012 has been so despondent that people had gone full circle. The team was so bad, the theory went that it must be good, after all it’s rarely the best team that actually wins international tournaments. On the basis of this performance, perhaps that theory is true.
All the familiar problems were still there, an inability to keep possession, a couple of reckless challenges which could easily see players dismissed in tournaments and yet the team displayed an uncharacteristic discipline built, like all Roy Hodgson’s teams, on a strong foundation of defence and when a clear chance came, it was taken. For the time being at least the team seems to have taken the new manager’s ideas on board.
Belgium provided a tougher test than Norway did seven days before. They were far more comfortable on the ball than Hodgson’s charges and dominated posession but as the match wore on they struggled to break down their hard-working and well-drilled hosts. Gillet came closest with a superb shot from outside the area that had beaten Joe Hart but it cannoned off the post. It was significant that the defender was restricted to shooting from distance. It was also significant that the effort came when Joleon Lescott was off receiving treatment – a rare collective lack of concentration from England.
While victories are built on solid defence you still have to score and, when the goal came it was a gem. Steven Gerrard and Danny Welbeck combined to win possession and while Welbeck took off on a surging run his captain fed the ball to Ashley Young who played it into the path of his on-rushing club colleague.
While Welbeck had been played onside by a woeful piece of defending by Thomas Vermaelen he still had to beat Simon Mignolet and he did so with a delightful chip.
The assist meant Young, who scored in England’s last match, against Norway, had scored or created 11 of England’s previous 20 goals. Surely he has played himself into the starting line-up against France in eight days’ time.
Jermain Defoe nearly added a second in the final 10 minutes but his shot across Mignolet’s goal hit the upright, the Tottenham man demonstrating why he is likely to be used as an impact substitute.
The one downside for Hodgson was the first-half injury to Gary Cahill after an unnecessary push from behind by Mertens saw the England defender collide with Joe Hart. The Chelsea man was replaced by Lescott after smashing his chin off the keeper’s shoulder.
The other question is whether the commitment England demonstrated in Hodgson’s Wembley debut will be enough to compensate for their failure to maintain possession in the bigger challenges ahead of them. We will have to wait and see but this – only the Belgians’ second defeat in their last 16 games, the other coming against Germany – was a pleasing send off and the new England manager goes into his first tournament with two wins and perhaps more importantly two clean sheets to his credit. Like I said at the start, maybe this England’s team’s bad enough to surprise us.
Belgium (4-3-3): Mignolet; G Gillet, Simons, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini, Mertens (Lukaku 72); Hazard, Mirallas (Chadli 59), Dembele.
Did you know…This is the 637th international England have played since Queen Elizabeth took the throne.
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