x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Welbeck lifts England's hopes in friendly with Belgium

Roy Hodgson gets second win, but is left sweating on injuries to Cahill and Terry. Audio verdict on England's performance

England’s striker Danny Welbeck, centre, chips the ball past the Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, for the only goal of the game.
England’s striker Danny Welbeck, centre, chips the ball past the Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, for the only goal of the game.

LONDON // So far, so good? In one respect, it certainly is. England have won both games under Roy Hodgson, keeping clean sheets both times and scored delightful goals, with Danny Welbeck's winner against Belgium as impressive as Ashley Young's strike in Norway.

In another, however, there is cause for concern. England have struggled to retain possession against two teams who did not qualify for Euro 2012. On the basis of Hodgson's brief time in charge, there is little to frighten those who will be in Poland and Ukraine.

But a philosophy is being put in place. England have a defensively solid, counter-attacking blueprint. They were well drilled, especially considering how little time they have had to prepare, and if Belgium were technically superior, Joe Hart was rarely required.

At the other end of the pitch, a selection dilemma may have been resolved. The shoot-out between Welbeck and Andy Carroll to partner Young in attack seemed to produce a winner as the combination of Manchester United teammates worked beautifully in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. Having scored in his four previous internationals, Young illustrated his growing importance to the national team by supplying the 21-year-old Welbeck's first international goal.

After Welbeck and Steven Gerrard united to rob Moussa Dembele, Young steered a pass into the path of the lone striker. With enviable nonchalance, Welbeck deftly lifted his shot over the advancing goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

It was a goal that came out of nothing. Before then, the only chances fell to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, veering in from the left flank. The first was miscued wide, the second - a much crisper strike - flew over the Belgian bar. Thereafter, Gerrard had two shots blocked on the stroke of half time.

But until a late flurry of efforts from Marouane Fellaini, goalmouth action was at a premium. But, out of nothing, Guillaume Gillet let fly from distance. An unstoppable 30-yard shot clipped the outside of the post, with Hart motionless.

England promptly emulated the visitors. Two substitutes linked up, Theo Walcott finding Jermain Defoe, whose angled drive rebounded off the upright.

Both are among only five members of the squad who have not been granted a start by Hodgson, suggesting they are likely to be replacements in Euro 2012. In each case, their pace indicated they could be useful impact substitutes.

However, Hodgson's plans have already been subject to several rethinks and another may be required. Gary Cahill collided with Hart after a shove by Dries Mertens, which brought the Belgian a booking, and curtailed just the defender's second appearance in six weeks. Given England's injury problems - three of Hodgson's squad have already been ruled out - it was a worrying sight and Cahill was taken to hospital for an X-ray on his jaw.

John Terry was also substituted, with the Chelsea captain troubled by his hamstring. Phil Jagielka, who was not in Hodgson's original 23, may yet find himself starting against France in Donetsk next Monday.

But for the meantime, the manager has a 100 per cent record. So, did his team yesterday, with one goal from one shot on target. It should be a reminder that improvement is required.

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