It was 4th against 117th at Wembley tonight; but that’s only if you believe FIFA’s rankings. On the pitch it was a different story, with England’s narrow 1-0 victory almost being threatened by a strong Wales performance in the second half and an extremely uncharacteristic miss from evergreen striker Robert Earnshaw to deny Wales a point.
England failed to begin the game at a canter; instead their build up play was slow and they subsequently let Wales into the game far too much in the opening stages. John Terry was out muscled early on by Steve Morison but thankfully for the Chelsea Captain the Welshman’s shot was well over.
As the half progressed England finally got into their stride and the movement up front with Wayne Rooney, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young was second to none. Midfielders James Milner and Frank Lampard were also involved in attacking moves, and you could sense an England goal on the horizon.
And that’s exactly what happened just ten minutes before half time. Downing skipped through the Welsh defence, who looked out of shape, and slid a ball into ex-Villa team mate Young who connected with the ball and fired it home to put his team ahead. It could have been two moments later when a superb cross from Young narrowly missed the head of striker Rooney and bounced agonizingly wide, as England went in at half time 1-0 up and definitely on top.
Bright out the blocks in the second half, Fabio Capello’s charges almost doubled their advantage with Wales not able to get the ball out of their box. Gareth Barry then tried a long range effort, akin to his goal at Tottenham in his last league outing, but this time the ball found the stands and not the back of the net.
The quick passing and delightful interchanges seen from England soon turned into ball-chasing and having to constantly close the Welsh side down who were able to hold onto the ball and frustrate England. It was to be Wales’ half.
Wales’ Youngest ever captain and Arsenal starlet Aaron Ramsey proved to be the heart of the team and Spurs’ main man Gareth Bale was also involved in the attacking moves created by the side from across the border. The introduction of Robert Earnshaw saw Wales’ best chance to equalise; after a freekick was lofted into the box, Darcy Blake did well to connect and pass the ball across the goal to the oncoming Earnshaw who found himself in a magnificent goalscoring position. The man all Wales fans wanted to be there was, but his poor connection with the ball only a few yards from Joe Hart’s goal meant Earnshaw’s shot sailed way over the crossbar and into the stands, much to the relief of the England defence.
The foothold England previously had on the game was all but gone now, and Wales had yet another chance to even the tie when Chris Gunter had a shot on goal just as the whistle blew for a foul. Nevertheless, his shot was expertly saved by Hart with a strong punch of the ball to avert any danger, even though the whistle had already been blown.
Nervously, England managed to see the game out and prevented any chance of a Welsh goal much to the disappointment of the travelling Wales contingent who sung loudly and proudly all night. A narrow victory for England but a victory none the less, meaning only a point is needed for them to qualify now when they visit Montenegro in October.
Are England 4th in the world? No. But more importantly, are Wales 117th in the world? Not in a million years.