Roy Hodgson’s first Wembley match as England manager ended with a 1-0 win after a first-half chip from Danny Welbeck was enough to give his side the victory.
The Manchester United striker was handed an opportunity by Hodgson to stake a claim for a starting berth against France, and the pacy youngster took it with both hands. A deft dink in the 36th minute was enough to give the Three Lions the victory, as Belgium enjoyed plenty of possession without ever really threatening.
Hodgson’s side followed up last weekend’s 1-0 win over Norway with a similarly solid display, and the England manager will be pleased to have two victories in hand before he sets off for Ukraine and Poland.
The England boss opted for a stronger starting 11 this week, as the Belgians were expected to provide a much sterner test than the Norwegians last Saturday. And for much of the first half Belgium did dominate, controlling possession around the England box without ever demonstrating a cutting edge.
Chelsea fans got a first look at Eden Hazard, and although he showed flashes of class, the two-time Ligue 1 Player of the Year was largely kept in check by a dogged England defence. Hodgson may have a slight concern over Gary Cahill, who was forced off after a nasty collision with Joe Hart – facilitated by a snide shove from Dries Mertens – while John Terry was also removed in the second half as precautions.
Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker demonstrated their effectiveness in breaking up attacks, and it was Gerrard who instigated the winning goal. The Liverpool and England skipper robbing an uncharacteristically sloppy Moussa Dembele before offloading to Ashley Young.
The England forward then slipped a measured slide-rule pass into the path of his strike partner before Welbeck lifted the ball over an onrushing Simon Mignolet.
There were chances in the second half for substitute Jermaine Defoe, who hit the post and the side-netting in a lively 30-minute cameo, and the match was played in a competitive spirit despite the disruption caused by the numerous changes.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the left, and had England’s best early chance but the winger miscued his shot wide. The Arsenal youngster again showed his impressive temperament, and wasn’t afraid to go looking for the ball in central positions. Hodgson now faces a difficult decision over whether to start with Chamberlain against France, or opt for the experience of Stewart Downing.
As the clocked ticked down, Belgium grew into the game and had a couple of late chances, but Joe Hart was rarely troubled. A fierce strike from Gillet rattled the England keeper’s post, but Hodgson will be pleased with his side’s organisation and tenacity in the tackle.
Wayne Rooney also featured in the final 20 minutes, and looked sharp despite three weeks out. But the night belonged to Danny Welbeck, and the United youngster may have done enough to edge in front of Andy Carroll in the battle for the starting place against France.
It’s a problem Hogdson will be pleased to have, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that England’s attacking thrust often looked lethargic and jaded in comparison to the neat-link up from the Belgians.
Hodgson’s team face a tougher test on June 11 against France, but after two victories and two clean sheets they will at least prove difficult to break down in Donetsk.
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