England completed their preparations for Euro 2012 with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Belgium in their final warm-up match at Wembley.
Danny Welbeck pushed his claim to start up front against France in Donetsk on June 11 as the Manchester United striker scored the only goal with a delightful finish in the 36th minute.
Roy Hodgson will be pleased to have recorded a victory on his first home game in charge of the Three Lions – and a second clean sheet in as many matches – but England’s age-old deficiencies were on show as Belgium controlled much of the game.
In front of a packed house at Wembley, there was something of a carnival atmosphere before the England squad fly out to Euro 2012, where they face France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine in the group stages.
Hodgson made seven changes from the side that beat Norway a week earlier, starting with Joe Hart in goal and his first-choice back four of Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Ashley Cole. Most intriguing was the decision to hand a first England start to Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Belgium, for their part, arrived with familiar faces in the form of Premier League stars Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele, while Chelsea-bound Eden Hazard played in a free role.
England began slowly as Marc Wilmots’ visitors showed technical superiority in the early stages, taking control of possession, particularly through Dembele and Axel Witsel in central midfield.
But, in truth, the first half-an-hour was uneventful, with both teams struggling to create chances in the final third, as long-range potshots from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Witsel missed their targets.
The lack of entertainment at ground level was reflected in the skies as the home supporters made their own entertainment by creating paper aeroplanes and throwing them towards the pitch.
One landed close to Hodgson on the England bench, drawing a scolding look towards the stands from the 64-year-old, but he would have been more concerned when Cahill was forced off with a jaw injury in the 19th minute.
The Chelsea defender was sent for a precautionary x-ray following a collision with England goalkeeper Joe Hart and may now be a doubt for the start of the European Championship.
England were organised and stoic, relying on a solid defensive base from which they might be able to build. The opening goal came from a moment of quality that was out of keeping with a generally listless match.
Pressuring Belgium high up the pitch, Steven Gerrard won the ball and presented it to Ashley Young. The Manchester United man, who has thrived in Wayne Rooney’s position as the link-man between midfield and attack, slipped a perfect pass to Welbeck, his club team-mate.
Welbeck had no time to consider his options as the angles narrowed but used his natural instinct to clip a delightful left-footed finish over Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. It may have been his first international goal, but it was the finish of a young man with complete confidence in his ability at this level.
The second half continued in much the same manner as the first, with England playing with defensive discipline while looking short of ideas in the final third. The Three Lions hassled and harried but, in Poland and Ukraine, opposing teams could take advantage if they are allowed so much time with the ball.
Not that Belgium did not come close. Fellaini and Hazard both tested Hart before the visitors’ right-back Guillaume Gillet clipped the outside of the post with a thumping drive on the half-volley from 25 yards.
At the other end, as both teams lost their shape following a raft of changes, England substitute Jermain Defoe himself hit the post as he struck across goal from 12 yards following a dangerous run from Theo Walcott.
Moments later, the Tottenham man lashed into the side netting from a tight angle after being put through by Walcott, much to the frustration of England coach Gary Neville, who took control of touchline duties.
England will at least go to Euro 2012 on the back of two wins in their warm-up games following a tumultuous three months. But there remain as many questions as answers.
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