England recorded an unimpressive win to lift the Wembley curse and practically guarantee their place at Euro 2012. A first half goal from Ashley Young ensured victory, but Wales will be wondering what could have been after Robert Earnshaw missed an absolute sitter late on in the game. The visitors equipped themselves well, looking particularly dangerous in the second half and will count themselves extremely unlucky to come away with nothing.
FIFA’s questionable ranking system suggested an easy win for 4th placed England who took on 117th place Wales at Wembley. The Welshmen were also out of their depths financially speaking, with an overall value of £15 million compared to England’s £126 million, but this didn’t stop Montenegro and Switzerland – Capello’s men were on their worst winless streak ever at their home ground, and although qualification was almost in touching distance, they were looking to do a professional job against the visitors.
Fabio Capello fielded an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Ashley Young reverting to his more natural position on the right wing after an unconvincing stint sitting just behind Rooney against Bulgaria. Frank Lampard was also back in the starting line up, starting on the right side of a three man midfield that also included James Milner, who was tasked with handling the tricky Gareth Bale, who started on the right for the team in red.
The most notable absence for Wales fans was that of Craig Bellamy, who along with David Vaughan was suspended after picking up a yellow card against Montenegro. Gary Speed decided on a 4-1-4-1 formation with Jack Collison and Andrew Crofts coming in to replace the duo. The latter’s Norwich City team mate Steve Morison started as a lone striker and was up against John Terry for the second time in a matter of weeks after facing him at club level two Saturdays ago.
There was initially going to be a delay to kick off due to congestion outside the stadium, but it got underway as scheduled. England have made a habit of scoring early in these qualification games, but the game started as drearily as you might expect; short, aimless passes eventually gave way to a hoofed long ball from Frank Lampard that couldn’t find Wayne Rooney.
A low ball from Ashley Cole then caused Darcy Blake problems; he cleared behind for a corner. Young’s corner then led to a John Terry header that went wide of Hennessey’s left post.
England’s game plan of keeping Gareth Bale under wraps was becoming apparent. Every time the Welshman gained possession he was faced with an onslaught of England players, and was chopped down by Ashley Young near the halfway line.
A marauding run from Jack Collison put England on the back foot as he charged through a number of white shirts before being dispossessed by John Terry on the edge of the 18 yard box. Aaron Ramsey tried a shot from distance but it was well off target.
Steve Morison got the first real shot away, he chased a long ball and showed terrific strength to send John Terry flying (no mean feat) before volleying towards goal. The shot was a rather poor one as it turned out and caused Hart no problems.
Rooney showed his current confidence as he tried a lob from 25 yards after a one-two with Frank Lampard. It sailed over the bar and seemed rather futile anyway considering the 6 foot 4 ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey was stood firmly on his line.
Wales’ youngest ever captain Aaron Ramsey was looking lively and bombed down the left flank before putting in a fantastic driven cross that no one could quite get a touch on. The fixture didn’t look like a contest between two sides ranked 113 places apart.
Another half chance for England, an Ashley Young free kick was crossed in but firmly punched away by Hennessey.
Wales were looking a team with far more creativity with some good passing moves and nice touches. They couldn’t quite get the final ball right but were looking dangerous all the same. Gareth Bale was a fantastic outlet – running at players and keeping possession on a whim. They were however missing Craig Bellamy on the other flank with Chris Smalling looking comfortable against Joe Ledley.
Ashley Young came up against Wales right back Chris Gunter for the first time and skinned him comfortably before putting in a good cross. Gareth Barry connected with an acrobatic effort that flew well over the bar.
Gunter then dispossessed Ashley Cole before travelling half the length of the pitch under no pressure from England before getting in a poor shot. No real threat but a warning for England nevertheless.
England took the lead on the 35th minute with the first clear cut chance of the game after some good football from the hosts. Stewart Downing teased Joe Ledley before beating him and setting up Ashley Young with a low cross. The winger tucked home confidently before rightly acknowledging Downing in his celebration. The goal had come out of nowhere after a largely even opening half hour.
A sensational curling cross from Ashley Young should have been dispatched by Wayne Rooney but the striker couldn’t get anything on it. The hosts were starting to dominate the game with the visitors providing little in the way of attacking threat.
The referee called time on the opening half. England were looking strong after an unconvincing start.
It didn’t take long for England to pick up from where they left off; Ashley Young got a shot away from a tight angle in the first minute of the second half but it was palmed out by Wayne Hennessey before Gareth Barry fired over from the edge of the area.
Gareth Bale should have had a chance to equalise but was wrongly penalised for offside. He brought down a long ball from Joe Ledley and was in acres of space before the referee noticed his assistant flagging.
The next attack came around 15 minutes later as Gareth Barry surged forward, leaving two Welsh players in his wake before squaring to Frank Lampard who blazed it over. Young then set up James Milner but his deflected effort flew well wide.
As is so often the case in games involving England, the match was starting to die down to nothingness with the hosts preferring to smother their opponents’ attacks rather than coming up with any of their own. Although their lead was a narrow one, it looked far from precarious with Steve Morison looking very isolated up front; he was eventually replaced by Robert Earnshaw.
Both sides were looking disjointed with few attacks actually leading to chances on goal. A foul from Chris Smalling gifted Wales a free kick around 30 yards from goal but Gareth Bale’s driven shot went over.
Substitute Robert Earnshaw then missed a golden chance to equalise. Another foul from Smalling gave Ramsey the chance to cross from the free kick. Darcy Blake got up well to head across goal to the little striker, who couldn’t have been more than four yards out of a largely unguarded net somehow hit it over. A pathetic effort by Earnshaw – the Welsh were unlikely to get a better chance than that.
Wales were attacking again however, Chris Gunter forced a terrific save from Joe Hart but was adjudged have fouled Ashley Young in the process anyway. The visitors were taking the game to England, and had dominated the last quarter.
Earnshaw tried to redeem himself after being played through by Aaron Ramsey. He ran at John Terry, but finding no way around tried a speculative effort that dipped wide.
England were unable to re-establish control and were hanging on in the last five minutes with every man but Rooney taking up defensive positions. Another effort from Robert Earnshaw was easily held by Joe Hart.
Ashley Young helped stage a rare England attack as he gained possession after a slow, methodical passing move and ran at Chris Gunter, cutting inside before getting in a shot that rolled harmlessly wide. Andy Carroll replaced Wayne Rooney in the dying minutes – the striker had barely had a touch in the second half.
Robert Schörgenhofer blew the final whistle. A poor performance by England overall but one that edges them ever closer to qualification. You can’t help but feel however, that they are still a fair distance behind the likes of Holland, Germany and Spain.
Referee: Robert Schörgenhofer
England (4-3-3) Hart, Smalling, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Lampard (Parker, 73), Barry, Milner, Downing (Johnson, 79), Rooney (Carroll, 89) Young
Wales (4-1-4-1) Hennessey, Gunter, Blake, Williams, Taylor, Collison (King, 85), Bale, Crofts, Ramsey, Ledley, Morison (Earnshaw, 67)
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