By Shane Thomas
SWITZERLAND 1 - 3 ENGLAND
England continued their post-World Cup recovery with an impressive 3-1 win over Switzerland in Basle. In what was considered the toughest match in England's group to qualify for Euro 2012, they overcame injuries to key personnel and driving rain to make it two wins from two in Group G.
It must be taken into account that with the exception of a 20 minute spell in the second-half, the Swiss were dreadful. It beggars belief that they managed to beat the World Champions, Spain only three months ago.
But this is not Fabio Capello's problem. His job is to ensure England beat what is put in front of them, regardless of their standard. And while he has come under fire for not being able to communicate with his players sufficiently, it was clear that his instructions were being understood loud and clear tonight. Capello has always insisted on his England side pressing high up the pitch and pressuring the opposition into mistakes. From the opening whistle, England hunted the Swiss with a ferocious zeal, even the likes of Jermain Defoe & Theo Walcott physically imposing themselves to positive effect.
With Switzerland continually giving the ball away, England looked threatening long before their opening goal in the 12th minute. Walcott and Glen Johnson made inroads down the right-hand side, and Johnson pulled the ball back for Wayne Rooney to score his first England goal for 12 games. It was an incisive England move but came at a cost as Walcott was injured in the melee as Rooney tapped in. The Arsenal man was stretchered off and taken to a Basle hospital for an x-ray. One hopes it is not serious as Walcott has been in electric form so far this season and would be a miss for both club and country.
Adam Johnson came on as Walcott's substitute, and continued to give the Swiss left-back Reto Ziegler a headache for the remainder of the match. This was the best half of football England had played since demolishing Croatia back in 2007, and they should have been more than one goal to the good at half-time. Rooney, playing as an old fashioned Number 10, kept finding pockets of space to hurt Switzerland. Defoe was looking sharp up front, while England were getting plenty of change out wide from the two Johnsons on one side & James Milner and Ashley Cole on the other.
There was always going to be an improvement from Switzerland in the second-half. Joe Hart was struggling with his handling in the rain, as well as his kicking from backpasses. The crowd could sense a potential error from the Manchester City man and were beginning to turn up the volume in St Jakob Park. But England held firm and scored a sumptuous goal on the counter. Rooney, again finding space, linked with Steven Gerrard, and the captain played a delicious defence-splitting ball to send Adam Johnson clear. The winger kept his cool, rounding Diego Benaglio and slotting home England's second.
The game looked safe at this point, but substitute Xherdan Shaqiri scored a stunning long range effort to give the home fans hope. Shaqiri is considered the new wonderboy of Swiss football and he was one of the few players in a red shirt to impress. He may be one to keep an eye on in the future.
The goal came mere minutes after Switzerland had Stephan Lichtsteiner sent-off for a second yellow card offence on Milner. But despite the man disadvantage, they kept pressing with reckless abandon for a potential equaliser. It was then that Capello made a shrewd decision. Noticing that the Swiss were only running on fumes and instinct, he brought Darren Bent & Shaun Wright-Phillips off the bench to capitalise. While Wright-Phillips's distribution was woeful, his pace helped create gaps in Switzerland's defence, from which came England's third goal.
Ashley Cole - who was the best player on the pitch - burst forward into an old inside-left position and played Bent through on the keeper. Bent took a touch to steady himself and fired home the clinching strike. It put the seal on a good night's work for England and as long as they can beat Montenegro next month they might as well start making plans for a summer in Poland & the Ukraine in the summer of 2012.
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