ENGLAND DEPTH DELIVERS AT THE DEATH
England achieved their first win of Euro 2016 as Daniel Sturridge squeezed his way through the entire Wales backline to score the winner in stoppage-time. Gareth Bale scored another extraordinary free-kick and substitute Jamie Vardy equalised from a recycled corner in the second half. Roy Hodgson’s team now lead Group B after an enticing match in Lens.
England fielded an identical line-up to the one that drew with Russia in their opening match. For Wales, Wayne Hennessey returned to the starting XI in goal, after missing the win over Slovakia with a back spasm. Joe Ledley also started, just thirty-nine days after breaking his leg on Crystal Palace duty. Four-three-three again for England; five-two-two-one for Wales. The fans were in good voice throughout.
After a slow and cagey first few minutes, England had the first chance to score. The ball bounced over Harry Kane’s head, which enabled him to turn his man and start a counter-attack. He fed Lallana, on the right-wing, ever present and always happy to work and harry intensely. The Liverpool midfielder jetted down the wing, but when he crossed for Sterling, the Manchester City man placed the ball well over the bar. Efficiency needed – 0-0. England carried on producing chances and their next came from a Wayne Rooney free-kick. Whipping the ball in, he met the head of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, but the defender’s deft touch was pounced upon by Palace’s Hennessey. He couldn’t add to his tally of three England goals.
The next chance saw a penalty appeal. As Harry Kane headed Sterling’s cross goalwards, Ben Davies blocked it with his arm trailing in the air. The referee, Felix Brych of Germany waved away the England protests. The Three Lions were establishing some form as the half went on, Chris Smalling heading just wide of Hennessey’s post from Wayne Rooney’s well taken corner. As it got more sunny, more hot, and more tense in Lens, Rooney gave away a needless free-kick for a tussle with striker Hal Robson-Kanu. Up to take the spot-kick came Gareth Bale. His run up looked menacing and the members or England’s wall looked suitably troubled by Bale’s game face. The Real Madrid man ran up and shot a knuckled effort wobbling over the wall. Joe Hart dived unconvincingly and even less convincingly parried the ball into the net. Bale and Wales and half of those in the stadium roared like dragons as eleven men wheeled away to join Chris Coleman, the twelfth, in jubilant, passionate celebration. The impossible was on the cards at half-time. England 0-1 Wales.
With Roy Hodgson’s job in serious question for arguably the first time in his England career, the manager was forced into making some noticeable chances at the break. Off came Harry Kane, looking tired and off the pace so far, and the terribly disappointing Sterling. Replacing them were Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, who Hodgson claimed has been “on fire” in training over the past week.
The Three Lions kept the ball well and Wayne Rooney continued to dictate play with his effortless ability to feed the wingers and full-backs in order to speed up the tempo. Despite this it took a while for England to register their first decent effort at goal. When it came, it fell for the England captain. Some tasty interchanging play between Sturridge and Dele Alli saw Rooney in space a little way out of the box. The midfielder took the ball past Aaron Ramsey, excellent all afternoon but nowhere near to taking the ball from Rooney’s feet. The Manchester United man advanced towards the edge of the eighteen-yard box before whipping a mean shot towards the back post. Hennessey saw it coming and parried the ball behind well. England kept probing, and they got their reward. A rash Neil Taylor clearance saw the ball handed straight back to England, in the form of an unmarked Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool forward set himself before crossing into a cram packed Wales box. Welsh captain Ashley Williams accidently headed down towards his goal. For that reason Jamie Vardy was considered to be onside when the ball reached him, and another chapter to his remarkable season was written as he scuffed a volley beyond Hennessey and into the Welsh net. The Three Lions had equalised, and had just over thirty-five minutes to attempt to find the winner. Although, as Crystal Palace’s Jonny Williams showed with a flashing shot just after, they also had thirty-five minutes in which they could still be beaten.
All of those minutes passed by, and as The Lions and The Dragon entered stoppage time, England were still going strong offensively, and defensively so were Chris Coleman’s Wales. Daniel Sturridge, just outside the area, found the feet of the goalscorer Vardy. He in return found Alli. The Tottenham disguised a pass into the onrushing Sturridge as he felt himself tripping over. Sturridge found himself open in front of goal. He scuffed the ball with his right foot over a floor-bound Chris Gunter and into the net past Hennessey. Magical scenes followed and England fully answered Gareth Bale’s questions of passion. Gary Neville, Ray Lewington and off course Hodgson all joined in with the celebrations. England had been rewarded for their efforts with three deserved points. The final whistle blew just a minute later. England lead Group B, as it ended 2-1.