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Paul Lagan, at Wembley
Saturday, June 2, 2012
International Friendly: England 1 Belgium 0
Danny Welbeck scored the only goal of the game to send England off to the Euros 2012 with a victory against Belgium.
But in truth, this was a game dominated almost from start to finish from the visitors.
England have downplayed their chances of success in Poland And Ukraine and frankly it’s well deserved.
The Manchester United striker took his goal well, Cooly chipping Simon Mignolet on 37 minutes from just inside the penalty area.
This was a game where defence was on top for England with sporadic counter-attacks.
Belgium, who failed to qualify for the Euros, we’re superior in attack but suspect in defence.
As for the game, good early pressure by the visitors, with Chelsea’s soon-to-be signing Eden Hazard pulling the strings set the pattern for the game.
England, by contrast, were struggling to get hold of the ball.
However, England should have taken the lead on eight minutes, when following a chipped free-kick by John Terry, James Milner found himself free on the right. He cut a low ball back from the byline into the path of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the young Arsenal winger scuffed his shot from the edge of the area, somewhat embarrassingly.
Oxlade-Chamberlain redeemed himself on 14 minutes. In similar fashion, but this time on the left, he received a cutback from Danny Welbeck. The wide man’s shot was hit well and true, but veered wide of Simon Mignolet’s goal at the last minute.
Belgium did put the ball in the back of the net three minutes later, when Dries Mertens, slotted home with a side footer from two yards, but he had already pushed Gary Cahill into Joe Hart in the process- an infringement which resulted in a yellow card.
But more worryingly for England, Cahill failed to recover sufficiently from what appeared to be a blow on the head, when he hit Hart and was instantly replaced by Joleon Lescott.
A powerful 20-yard shot by Axel Witsel zipped over Hart’s crossbar as Belgium exerted greater pressure on the home side’s defence.
Scott Parker entered the book of Denmark referee Petr Rasmussen on 30 minutes after clattering Mertens.
Against the run of play, with nine minutes of the half remaining, England took the lead, Steven Gerard won the ball in midfield, and slide it to Ashley Young.
The Manchester United forward then bisected the Belgium defence with a fine pass into the gleeful path of teammate Welbeck. the striker, cooly raced into the penalty area, slightly on the left, and expertly chipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper Mignolet and into the empty net, It was the 21-year-old’s first goal at full international level.
Hazard then tried a 30-yarder, but the effort, while on target, did not trouble Hart.
While no changes were made at half-time by either side, England boss Roy Hodgson decided to bring on Wayne Rooney for Welbeck eight minutes after the restart.
Belgium started the second half as the finished the first, pushing England back towards their own goal.
Marouane Fellaini and Hazard were the chief architects - Hart was forced into a save from a left- footer from Fellaini on 61 minutes.
There then followed a flurry of substitutions.
Hodgson replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain and Young for Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe on 66 minutes.
Three minutes later and it was John Terry’s turn to walk off the turf, replaced by Phil Jagielka.
Chelsea’s Romelu Lakaku entered the fray for Belgium with 18 minutes of the game left, replacing Mertens.
It was Lukaku who almost equalised within two minutes, following excellent set-up play by Hazard. He was quick to get a shot away but his club mate Cole blocked as Belgium pressed even closer to levelling the scores.
Full-back Guillaume Givet then got in on the act on 78 minutes when his rasper of a 25-yard right-footer beat Hart but crashed off the stopper’s right post.
Defoe returned the compliment of hitting the post on 81 minutes when England finally decided to venture forward from a counterattack.
The game petered out with Belgium still trying to get the equaliser and England happy to sit back and run the clock down.
That bit, they did successfully.
Teams: England, Hart, Johnson, Gerrard, Cahill, Cole, Terry, Milner, Parker, Welbeck, Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Subs, Jones, Green, Baines, Lescott, Jagielka, Henderson, Downing, Defoe, Rooney, Carroll, Walcott, Butland
Belgium, Mignolet, Gillet, Vertonghen, Kompany, Vermaelen, Mertens, Witsel, Mirallas, Hazard, Fellaini, Dembele
Subs, Renard, Simons, De Camargo, Pocognoli, Chadli, Benteke, Vossen, Lukaku, Odoi, De Ceulaer, Defour, Nainggolan
Referee Peter Rasmussen (Denmark)