England 1 Belgium 0: Lessons from an assured Three Lions win
What did we learn from England's 1-0 victory over Belgium in their final Euro 2012 warm-up game at Wembley on Saturday?
Oxlade-Chamberlain should start against France
Although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to produce the type of buccaneering performance which became synonymous with his flurry of spectacular displays for Arsenal earlier this season, the 18-year-old was sufficiently impressive to suggest Roy Hodgson should gamble on the Gunners youngster against France. The Southampton youth graduate showed a directness that is so often missing in England’s wide areas – particularly with Stewart Downing and James Milner on the wing. Oxlade-Chamberlain was fearless in taking on Belgium’s defence and also showed a willingness to shoot impulsively, unfortunately slipping after Danny Welbeck rolled the ball back to the Arsenal star, before minutes later narrowly shooting over the crossbar. It may be a gamble but he could thrive against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, who has struggled against pace this season.
Lescott has done enough to start with Terry
Hodgson started Chelsea duo Gary Cahill and John Terry at centre-half for England’s final warm-up game. The Blues skipper is a certainty to start against Laurent Blanc’s side, but Cahill will fight for the last spot in Hodgson’s starting line-up with Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott. The Bolton Wanderers defender particularly impressed in Chelsea’s Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, but the 26-year-old was forced off in the first half at Wembley after a collision with England goalkeeper Joe Hart. His replacement Lescott was resolute alongside Terry as Belgium were restricted going forward. The City centre-half looks assured in the position and he must now be the preferred partner for former England skipper Terry after successive clean sheets.
Who should partner Young up front?
Ashley Young’s performances against Norway and Belgium should be enough to ensure the United midfielder starts on 11 June at the Donbass Arena. The 26-year-old has scored or assisted 11 of England’s last 20 goals, including Welbeck’s first-half strike against Belgium. Hodgson started Young behind Welbeck, and the Red Devils duo struggled to link up against a stubborn opposition rearguard. After a dour opening 35 minutes, England skipper Steven Gerrard won the ball in central midfield and Young released his club team-mate through with an incisive pass – Welbeck produced a stylish dink over Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to give England the lead. Hodgson withdrew Welbeck shortly after the interval, perhaps a sign the England boss had seen enough to be convinced that the United forward should start against France. Andy Carroll will hope otherwise, and while the Liverpool forward certainly offers an aerial threat, ultimately Welbeck is a better finisher and should get the nod.
England handed a proper pre-Euro 2012 test
England have faced Belgium on 20 previous occasions, and perhaps most memorably at the 1990 World Cup, when David Platt scored an extra-time winner to send England into the quarter-finals. The Three Lions had not lost to Saturday’s opposition since 1936, and Hodgson’s men ensured that 66-year unbeaten record stayed intact. But Marc Wilmot’s side approached the tie at Wembley as a chance to showcase their potential. Belgium boast plenty of Premier League talent, including Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini, and Mignolet, with Eden Hazard poised to join Chelsea. It was a competitive friendly, and a good test-run for Hodgson’s men against a side which bears similarities to Laurent Blanc’s France. The game was a test passed by England and will be a pleasing start for Hodgson, especially after losing key members of his squad during the week.
What can England supporters expect at Euro 2012?
A sense of realism has been cast over England’s chances at Euro 2012, and injury to Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard have only served to further lower expectations – a rarity for the national team. The underdogs tag may serve to relieve pressure on England’s under-performing side, but it won’t inspire a Chelsea-esque triumph in Poland and Ukraine. However, the 64-year-old has already set about creating England in a mirror image of his Fulham outfit which reached the Europa League final in 2010. England were compact and resolute, with Hodgson’s side looking to catch Belgium on the counter-attack. It has been an assured start to the Hodgson era, although successive 1-0 victories over the 24th and 44th-ranked teams in the world is unlikely to translate into Euro success.
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