began their second game under new manager Roy Hodgson with an
interesting contest with
Wembley, a final warm-up match before the Euro 2012 competition gets
under way in a week's time.
Belgium, a side packed with familiar players
who operate in our Premier League, are an up and coming team, so it
was to be a tough test.
Once again though,
played solidly, without being spectacular and they again managed a 1-0
It took over seven minutes before any semblance
of a chance was created, and it fell to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,
making his first full appearance.
The Arsenal player completely fluffed his shot though after
James Milner teed up the ball for him.
That was probably the highlight of the first 13 minutes of the
game, but the same player had another effort around that time, and
although he hit his 25 yard shot better this time, the ball flew over
Simon Mignolet's goal.
then suffered yet another injury blow, they have had a spate of them
recently. Gary Cahill was
trying to shepherd the ball back to Joe Hart and Dries Mertens came in
and blantantly pushed the Chelsea
man in the back. The
force of the shove pushed him into Hart and he suffered a nasty jaw
injury as a result, which ended his night prematurely.
He was replaced by Joleon Lescott and Mertens was rightly
booked for the foul.
Belgium were playing neat possession football but
rarely threatened a disciplined England back four, although Axel
Witsel did see one long-range shot fly just over on 23 minutes, the
first decent attack on goal by Belgium.
The other bank of four home players across the midfield also
coped admirably with the best that the visitors could muster, and
had a solid look about them again.
Glen Johnson fouled Mertens and the Belgian
player made a meal of the challenge, performing a double somersault,
twist and roll, with pike!
He was lucky not to receive a second yellow for that wonderful
piece of acting. Mind
you, both sides were guilty of some late challenges and Scott Parker
was the next to go in the book on the half-hour mark.
The game was going through a scrappy phase at this time, with
Oxlade-Chamberlain struggling to get into the game, and Danny Welbeck
hardly seeing the ball at all.
Having said that, on 35 minutes came the moment that eventually
settled the match.
Welbeck challenged Moussa Dembele in the middle
of the pitch, and he was helped by skipper Steven Gerrard.
They managed to win the ball and Gerrard fed Ashley Young.
Young spotted Welbeck's run to his left and threaded a superb
pass through to him. As
Mignolet came out the Manchester United youngster stayed cool and
chipped the ball over the sprawling goalkeeper and into the open net.
It was a well-taken goal and it lifted the crowd.
England were playing like an away team, in as much as they were
soaking up the Belgian attacks and looked to catch them on the break.
On this occasion it worked to perfection, 1-0 to the
Hot property Eden Hazard showed some good
footwork to fire in a dipping shot for
Belgium, but Hart was equal to it.
Before the break it was Gerrard who nearly increased
Welbeck again worked hard to charge down an attempted clearance
and Gerrard came storming in to side-foot a shot goalwards.
That was blocked by Timmy Simons but it ran back to him and
again he tried a shot, this time Guillaume Gillet made a splendid
block, which was just as well as Mignolet was struggling.
So at half-time England
led 1-0, and with Lescott and John Terry looking in no particular
trouble the lead was comfortable.
Overall it had been a scrappy game though, with the
players showing some understandable fears of being injured.
As for Belgium,
they lacked the guile to break England
down and rarely threatened.
started the second half well and good attacks came in from Ashley Cole
and Oxlade-Chamberlain before Terry headed over the bar.
On 52 minutes Hodgson took goalscorer Welbeck off and Wayne
Rooney came on up front.
It was to be the first of several substitutions which were to disrupt
the game. On 60 minutes
Hazard tried a curler, but the shot didn't trouble Hart, and then the
goalkeeper had to get down smartly to stop Marouanne Fellaini's drive.
meanwhile, were guilty of some sloppy passes and they had an
irritating habit of giving the ball away too often.
Johnson was particularly annoying at this, and several of the
management team on the bench looked as frustrated as the fans were.
On 65 minutes Jermaine Defoe replaced Young and
Theo Walcott replaced his Arsenal teammate Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The youngster had tried hard but nothing seemed to come off for
him, and several times he lost his footing.
But he has massive potential and his time will come, of that
there is no doubt.
Another slight injury worry came when Terry went off to be replaced by
Phil Jagielka, and Belgium
made several changes too.
Rooney and Defoe combined well in one attack and
then Cole did well to block a shot by Romelu Lukaku.
On 77 minutes Belgium had their nearest miss yet as the ball
rolled out to the incoming Gillett, who lashed in a terrific shot from
20 yards, that beat Hart all ends up but struck the outside of a post.
It was a good effort and he was unlucky.
Fellaini then had another chance but again Hart saved from him.
A minute later play was down the other end and great work by
Walcott set Defoe up, and the Spurs player fired in a terrific
cross-shot which cannoned back off the far post with Mignolet beaten.
The ball was cleared and went straight down the other end where
Hazard shot over the bar.
At this stage it was end to end football but only because the players
were tiring and all the changes disrupted the organisation of the
Fellaini had another chance and Jan Vertonghen
headed over for Belgium,
whilst Lescott almost reached a Rooney free-kick.
A great turn and run by the lively looking Defoe ended with him
combining with Walcott before shooting into the side-netting from a
difficult angle. Two late
saves from Hart protected England's
lead, the second of those from the hard-working Fellaini again.
In the end though the one goal was enough and with another
clean sheet England
and Hodgson can be pleased with many aspects of their display.
It wasn't a particularly good game but
are going to be a hard side to beat in the tournament, and they always
look capable of getting at least one goal in a game.
Gerrard was given the official man of the match
award, but I thought Lescott was the outstanding player, and winning
the Championship title has given him a new confidence in his game.
Hart and Terry also played well, Milner did nothing wrong, and
both Walcott and Defoe were lively when they came on.
It means that
go into the tournament with a habit of winning, and that's not a bad
habit to have. Long may