Home » International, Latest » Euro 2012 Match Report: Wales 0 England 2

New captain, new formation … new start? That would be going too far but for the first half of this game England looked worth the 110 places that separate them from Wales in Fifa’s rankings. Playing a fluid, counter-attacking 4-3-3, Fabio Capello ended a difficult fortnight by coasting to the top of their euro 2012 qualifying group, thanks to a Frank Lampard penalty and a close range finish from Darren Bent. John Terry, thrilled by his reinstatement, even helped create the first goal.

The Italian bristled when asked afterward if this showed he still had the support of his players. “Why?” he barked with some of the old ferocity. “When we win we are the best and when we lose we are sh …” Capello, who has been rightly criticised for his treatment of Rio Ferdinand, interrupted himself just in time.

If only Wayne Rooney had shown the same level of self control and not picked up the yellow card that means he is suspended for the game with Switzerland in June. The Manchester United player also needed an ice pack after coming off with 20 minutes to go but the FA doctor said there was no significant problem.

Intense in the first half, tepid in the second, England failed to build on their lead and give the kind of rousing performance that has been missing since that first Capello qualifying campaign. Instead it was flat after the break and a depressing revival of those tapering England performances under Sven. “First half good … second half not so good …” That the game would peter out like this seemed improbable before kick off. The Millennium stadium had reached a ferocious pitch, the crowd booing Terry and Rooney with pitiless enthusiasm and getting ready to cheer on every tackle and dribble made by a man in a red shirt. Maybe it was that level of expectation, or maybe it was the sense of inferiority ingrained by years of dispiriting defeats, but the Welsh froze.

England made the most of home nerves, pressing ruthlessly on an unpredictable pitch, led by the aggressive Scott Parker. The Welsh lost faith in their passing, constantly shifting the ball backwards, inviting English pressure.

Into the seventh minute and Terry carried the ball out of his own half, dribbling in the slightly mincing manner so at odds with the rest of his play. He played a one-two with Ashley Cole, carrying the ball deep into the Welsh half. James Collins slipped as Terry passed the ball inside him and as the Welsh defender tried to recover, he clipped the back of Young’s ankles. The Portuguese referee was well positioned and immediately awarded a penalty. Lampard converted, placing the ball to Wayne Hennessey’s right as the goalkeeper dived left.

The Welsh were deflated and England sensed their weakness. They redoubled their pressing and sought to find Darren Bent with early balls clipped into the channels. With 14 minutes played they had scored the second and brought the hosts to their knees.

Glen Johnson received the ball high up in the English half and was not pressed with any urgency. He looked up and, seeing Young’s run through the right channel, clipped a perfect pass into the penalty box, the ball sitting up like it was hit with a nine iron. Young hit the ball square across the six yard box where Bent finished, lift the ball above Hennessey into the roof of the net.

At that point Gary Speed must have broken out in a cold sweat. He has a lot of work to do to restore the self-belief of this Wales side and a humiliation at the hands of England could have damaged the morale of his young team. There is a talent and potential – it will take time to coax it out.

Fortunately for Speed, England slowed up. Young hit a cross too close to Hennessey and Bent had a decent chance after Wilshere’s run and through pass but otherwise the visitors were restricted. Still, Wales could not get any coherent possession, with far too big a gap between the back four and midfield. Joe Ledley, in particular, looked edgy, failing to offer himself for the pass and giving the ball away cheaply.

If England’s reduction in intensity was a cautious tactic, Rooney went radically off plan just before half time. Feeling he had been fouled by Andy Crofts and failing to get the decision, he reacted in a very Rooney-ish manner, hurling himself recklessly at Ledley. He was rightly booked and is now suspended for the visit of the Swiss.

Not that he missed much. Indeed the second half as a whole was a non-event. Wales did improve, especially after Speed sent on David Vaughan and Ched Evans but they still failed to work Joe Hart. A flurry of corners and a couple of long range shots from Ramsey and Bellamy roused the crowd but often the game slowed to a near standstill.

England were complicit in this, seemingly happy to see out a game they felt they had won comfortably. Too often they sent long balls down the field that James Collins gleefully met with crunching headers. Bent tired and was caught on his heels to often. It was all a bit flat.

There was, though, plenty to be enthusiastic about, foremost Wilshere, playing with attacking freedom, gliding past opponents.

Capello described his performance as “normal” and by that he meant by the Arsenal midfielder’s own elevated standards. “It is incredible how much he has improved in a short time,” Capello said. “He plays like he is 28 or 29 and has 35 or 40 caps.” With Parker impressive not just in his tackling (he made more passes than any other on the field) and Lampard comfortable playing in a narrow midfield three (as he does at Chelsea), Capello has a new system to work with.

In Young he also has a player who he is beginning to trust. When he first took the job he was concerned that Villa winger might not be mentally tough enough but after making both goals and showing flashes of flair, Capello was warm in his praise of Young. “He has really improved a lot this year,” Capello said. “He was good in Denmark, has been good for Aston Villa and played very well today.” Young, Wilshere, Parker: post World Cup, Capello is gradually giving this team a new identity. Whether he will succeed will demand sterner tests than this.

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