England came out the better team in a fiercely contested game against noisy neighbours Wales on Thursday, with Leicester talisman Jamie Vardy and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge notching a goal each in the second half to cancel out Gareth Bale’s curling free kick effort.
The stakes were high, with Welsh players engaging in some real banter with England by playing down the ability of Spurs wonderkid Dele Alli and bigging up their chances of upsetting the player by player superior England. They were on their way of doing just that, with Gareth Bale striking the dead ball beautifully to put it past a hapless Joe Hart for Wales’ first goal against them in 30 years. England weren’t able to create much in the first half with the exception of a great ball from the flanks supplied by Adam Lallana to an incoming Raheem Sterling, who fluffed his lines badly. Wales defended like a unit, with every player huffed and puffed to further discern England by pushing them back through relentless pressing.
The second half was a stark contrast from the first, as manager Roy Hodgson took off Sterling and Kane, who were quite ineffectual in the first half, for Vardy and Sturridge before the start of the half. The changes paid off as they started to play more upbeat football, coupled with real urgency. Wayne Rooney calmly pulled the strings from his deep role as the playmaker, combining with the likes of Adam Lallana and Alli in a bid to penetrate a stoic and determined Wales backline marshalled by Swansea’s Ashley Williams. There were times when Wales would find opportunities for a counter attack with their opponents so further up the pitch however they weren’t really able to make much out of it. Eric Dier worked tirelessly in midfield to stifle the presence of the likes of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and protect the back four while his midfield mates toiled in advanced positions up the pitch. England kept up the pressure on Wales, until Jamie Vardy was able to pull one back for England to make it 1-1 when an attempted cross was deflected into the box, as the ball fell to Vardy after a bit of jostling between the forwards and the Welsh backline, and he put it in the back of the net from close range quite comfortably. They didn’t stop there though, as Wales’ lack of attacking impetus meant that they had their backs against the wall and rarely ventured out of their own half while England kept pushing. The match entered stoppage time and it looked like England would have to settle for another frustrating draw to compound their misery, until Daniel Sturridge managed to bumble into the box and poked the ball past Wayne Hennessey to win it for England in the 91st minute. Jubilation was quite evident as Sturridge broke into his popular dance routine and then was smothered by the embrace of his teammates, even those on the bench.
The win means that England are currently sitting at the top of Group B with Wales at second and Slovakia occupying the third place, with Russia’s chances of advancing being quite bleak. England shall now face Slovakia, who are no walkovers and a result against them, even a draw, would be vital in confirming their securing them a spot unless they’d like to leave it to Wales to win against Russia, which would mean that although Wales finish at the top of their group, England would just have to pick up a draw against Slovakia to keep themselves alive in the competition. It still remains to be seen how England fares against better sides though, as they’ll surely have a test on their hands against the sides they’ll meet in the last 16.