VIDEO: Danny cool
Saturday, 02 June, 2012
First-half goal from Danny Welbeck gives England winning send-off ahead of the Euros.
by Glenn Lavery at Wembley Stadium
Danny Welbeck’s first senior team goal gave England a winning send-off against Belgium in their final game before Euro 2012.
On 36 minutes, the Manchester United youngster chipped a left-footed effort over Sunderland stopper Simon Mignolet to hand Roy Hodgson’s team their second 1-0 win in a week, following last Saturday’s victory in Norway
A talented young Belgian side impressed in patches but they were unable to find an equaliser despite creating a few good chances in the second half.
England, too, had opportunities to make the scoreline more comfortable, but they will now travel to Poland and Ukraine in confident mood.
There was a last-minute change in the visitors’ line-up as Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, the Belgium captain, was replaced by Timmy Simons, but that late blow did not hinder their level of performance in the opening minutes of the game, as Marc Wilmots’ side started brightly.
The mercurial Eden Hazard started up front with Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini and Fulham’s Moussa Dembele offering support from midfield and the Belgians enjoyed some good possession early on.
But it was England who fashioned the better chances, with the first two falling to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was making his first senior start. First, he attempted to connect with James Milner’s pull back but slipped as he went to shoot and when he did connect with his next effort, it was just off target.
Hodgson was forced into an early substitution when Gary Cahill collided with Joe Hart, after being pushed by Dries Mertens, and Joleon Lescott came on in his place.
Belgium’s first effort at goal came courtesy of Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel when he fired Kevin Mirallas’ lay-off just over the bar from 20 yards.
The game lost its rhythm midway through the half with both sides giving away seemingly needless fouls, but the Wembley crowd were soon roused when Welbeck gave the Three Lions the lead with his first England goal.
With just under ten minutes to go until the break, Ashley Young, who had scored in his previous four England games, slipped a well weighted through ball to his Manchester United club mate and Welbeck kept his cool to clip the ball over Mignolet from an angle.
And with the whistle looming, Steven Gerrard saw two quick-fire shots blocked by Simons and Guillaume Gillett. The ball was eventually chipped to the far post to Milner, but he could only head over.
After five England centurions (Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Peter Shilton and David Beckham) were honoured at half-time for earning 100 international caps, a fairly low-key start to the second half ensued, with only Jan Vertonghen and Mertens registering shots at goal, and both bent harmlessly wide.
Belgium’s next two efforts, from Hazard and Fellaini, were on target but they did not have the sufficient strength to trouble Hart.
Perhaps mindful that Wayne Rooney might need minutes under his belt before flying to the Euros, Hodgson summoned the forward from the bench in the 54th minute, and Rooney replaced the goalscorer Welbeck.
He was straight into the action too, holding the ball up before laying them off to Gerrard and Young and he threaded a through ball into the path of fellow sub Jermain Defoe, on for Young, but the Spurs man was unable to make the most of it.
Even though Belgium were only using this game in preparation for their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, they sought an equaliser in the second half and a only fine sliding block by Ashley Cole prevented Romelu Lukaku from testing Hart inside the box.
With 78 minutes on the clock, and the Belgium pressure increasing, right-back Gillet unleashed a rasping 25-yard angled drive but the ball clipped Hart’s right-hand upright, with the ‘keeper beaten.
Defoe followed suit moments later from closer in, hooking a shot past Mignolet only to see the far post intervene.
As the game entered added time Defoe was released by Theo Walcott, on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, but again he was off target and slammed his shot into the side netting.
The last effort of the game fell to Fellaini, but Hart got down well to deny Belgium a late leveller.
Hodgson’s men saw the game out to register a 1-0 win over a Belgium side of whom big things are expected over the next few years.
Now the Three Lions will be looking for a similar result against France in nine days’ time.