This has been the group fixture that all eyes have been on, the first meeting between England and Wales for five years since a 1-0 win for England at a 2012 qualifier.
Despite England winning 66 of the previous 101 matches against Wales, it would be fair to say that the Welsh had the momentum going into the game, coming from their 1-0 win over Slovakia whilst England had much to prove after conceding a late injury minute goal to Russia to only come away with a point.
Bale, full of confidence had spent conferences baiting the English team, stating that no English player would be good enough to get a place in the Welsh team- would these be words he may regret?
England had not retorted to the Welsh mind games and looked focused and composed as they walked around the pitch, the sense of occasion not seeming to shake them. Even Roy seemed relaxed as he strolled around the pitch in his Aviators and saluting the fans in the crowd. For those interested in the escapades of the England team’s mascot, Leo the Lion, it was Rooney who had him wrapped around his neck as he carried around the pre-match pitch walkabout. Leo may become the star member of the team if England fail to get out of the group.
Now as a side note, this was one of the biggest matches to happen for both teams and annoyingly it was taking place at 2pm on a Thursday. Thankfully, my work was one of the nice ones who were showing the game in the afternoon for those who wished to watch it so I was able to enjoy it with the crisps and drinks provided by the boss. How today was not made into bank holiday for England and Wales I do not know seeing we get them for royal weddings and for much lesser things.
England started the game with no changes from the draw with Russia whilst Wales made three changes, with Hennessey coming in for Ward and Robson-Kanu starting as reward for his winning goal against Slovakia.
Whistle blows and the game begins and it’s not long until we get to see if Hodgson has learned from the much criticised decision of having Harry Kane take corners. Turns out, he has and Rooney is the corner taker thankfully. Not that anything much comes of it but those supporting England will be feeling relief.
The first chance for Wales comes from Bale in the 9th minute which is well defended by Cahill but the ball goes out for a corner. Ramsey takes the corner and there is panic for England as the ball as Hart saves the attempt on goal but only to drop the ball, thankfully Kane manages to kick it away. That relief that was felt by England may not last long as England looked a bit shaky under pressure.
England appeared to have more of the possession and chances but failed to capitalise on these. Wayne Rooney had a chance in which the ball was skied over the crossbar and and Kane mirrored this in a free kick a few minutes later where those sitting at the back of the stadium needed to be more alert for incoming balls than Hennessey.
The first proper bit of drama in the game came about just after the 30th minute where England appealed for a penalty after an apparent handball in the box. The ball came in and Kane and Davies both went for it and it appeared that Davies had batted the ball away with his arm which allowed for the ball to be cleared away. The Russian referee didn’t blow for a penalty and it appeared from some angles in the replay this was a fair decision as it could be argued that Davies had not handled the ball deliberately, whilst other angles it appeared he did. Either way, Wales had the decision go their way.
Five minutes later, England have yet another corner and Smalling just heads the ball wide. The closest chance England have had with the ball going just a few inches on the wrong side of the post.
Despite all of England’s possession and chances, it was Wales going in all smiles at half time as 40 minutes in, Bale has a free kick 30 yards out and the ball swoops over the England wall and into the side of the goal. Hart should have been able to save it but his fingertips push the ball in to give Wales the lead. As much as was debated after the match about Hart and whether he should have saved the goal, it was a brilliant kick from Bale and all credit should be given to him.
Half time occurs and back in the boardroom I’m watching the game, the general comments are that England are “awful” and “predictable”. Good to see the support is as positive as ever! The general frustration over England is paused for a moment as there’s clips of the crowd including some of the shirtless England fans to which the general consensus is that “there are shirts for a reason”. What will the second half entail? Will Roy make some brave decisions and is there anyway back for England?
Well one of the questions is answered immediately as the second half begins and Roy takes off Kane and Sterling to bring on Vardy and Sturridge. Is this the masterstroke decision that will save his job?
England start off positively with more shots on goal but sadly nothing comes of it as yet again the ball heads into row Z. It begins to feel that England will not manage to break down the Welsh defence which has been able to deal with the pressure relatively well. Suddenly, the breakthrough happens as Vardy scores with his 3rd touch of the ball and it flies into the back of the net. There were questions about whether he was on side but the ball comes off Williams’ head straight to Vardy and allows him to score his 4th goal in 5 England appearances. Now we have a match! Looks like those substitutions may have paid off.
Five minutes later we have the first yellow card shown to Davies which incidentally is the first yellow card shown to a Welsh player in the tournament. Rooney takes the free kick and it heads into the box, only for it to go back out after a bit of shambles between the England players. More chances follow and Sturridge misses his chance to take the lead as he fails to get control of the ball as it sweeps under his feet.
Not long after Wales earn a corner and it is headed out the box by Vardy, however trouble for Wales as a foul in the box leads to Ledley staying down after a knock with Sterling. This was Ledley’s first start since his broken leg and it would be a huge blow for him to get injured again now.
72 minutes in and Wales makes their first substitution with Jonathan Williams replacing Robson-Kanu. One minute later and Hodgson makes his final substitution as Rashford comes on for Lallana.
Wales have another chance as Williams shoots at goal, but like most of the attempts at goal in this game, it flies over the net. It does however hit the camera behind goal so some achievement there. As the time ticks down into the last 5 minutes, we can see the Welsh fans almost delirious as one fan is crying and shouting. They haven’t won yet so it’ll be great to see his reaction if they do score a second.
With 3 minutes of added time, it does appear that the game will end in a draw, but this tournament has thrown up a lot of last minute surprises and England this time were the beneficiaries of a last gasp goal as 92 minutes, Sturridge manages to sweep through what has been a very impenetrable Welsh defence and manages to poke the ball into the corner. England have managed to come back from 1-0 down! Roy’s substitutes have saved the day!
Bale manages to have one last chance at goal as he flies into the box and heads the ball. England’s hearts are in their mouths as it goes towards the goal but it just misses and the final whistle is blown.
Somehow England have managed to turn around the game and win to keep up the 32 year winning streak against Wales, but crucially earned the three points they needed to top the group table.
Overall, it was a close match and Wales will feel unlucky not to have come away with at least a point. Wales still are likely to get through to the knockout stages but will need the win against Russia to ensure it. As for England, Hodgson will now have to look at whether he should start Vardy over Kane and Sturridge over Sterling as they both performed really well and were creating and trying to make the most of any opportunities in front of goal.
I think the best part of the match, was that at last there was no mention of fighting between fans and it appeared all were able to enjoy the game and allow the football to take the centre stage.
The award for best/most interesting fan has to go to the mad Welshman crying and screaming just for the intense and slightly terrifying display of passion. The best player, although Vardy and Sturridge were the key men to change the game around, Ramsey put in a brilliant display and disrupted England’s play throughout the match and showed that there is more to the Welsh team than Gareth Bale.