Daniel Sturridge picked up the ball outside the penalty area from Danny Rose. It was injury time, and the score was tied at 1-1. He stood still for a moment, collecting himself and looking for options. Eventually he moved. He played the ball to Jamie Vardy, England’s sole scorer and Leicester’s hero as they triumphed in the Premier League. Vardy did not have much time to react but he flicked it on to Dele Alli. Alli was closed off and dispossessed by a spirited Welsh defence, but Sturridge had run through and was able to collect the ball in a brilliant position. He took a touch, leaving the Welsh defender who came to him floundering, and with a calm finish into the bottom corner he delivered England a come-from-behind victory that sets them up well for the rest of their campaign.
This clash, between England and Wales, was one of the most highly anticipated of the group stage, and there was plenty of feeling between the two sides. Wales went in with plenty of confidence after a first-up victory over Slovakia, but England were able to push them back early. Raheem Sterling should have scored when he found himself with a golden opportunity, a cross from Adam Lallana landing perfectly at his feet. He could not hit the target, showing the poor form and lack of confidence which riddled his Premier League performances with Manchester City. England had other quality chances, and Gary Cahill missed a wonderful opportunity when his marker lost his footing in the box. His header went straight at Hennessey, and it was easily scooped up by the Welsh keeper. England could have had a penalty a few minutes later, but Ben Davies’ handball went unnoticed by the officials. England dominated possession, but while they had some good chances they looked ineffective against the Welsh defence. In the end it was Wales who hit the front, just when it seemed that the sides would go into the interval locked at 0-0.
The goal came from nothing, with a fairly clumsy challenge from Wayne Rooney setting up a free kick from considerable distance for Gareth Bale. In the end, it was not the actions of Bale which were responsible for the goal but those of Joe Hart, whose attempt at a save pushed an easily stopped free kick into the bottom corner. Bale stepped back and put his foot through it, and somehow the English keeper could not push it away from his own goal. The ball trailed into the back of the net off Hart’s hands, and while the goal was down to a keeper error it did not matter for the Welsh. It was the first time Wales had scored against England for 32 years, and they were bound to celebrate.
Roy Hodgson was quick to make changes to his misfiring team at the break, and he removed Sterling and Harry Kane. They were replaced by Vardy and Sturridge, and while Wales continued to hold firm the pair showed initial promise. After about ten minutes, however, the game opened up, and Vardy had scored shortly afterwards. Sturridge’s cross from the left wing found a mass of bodies at the top of the six-yard box, and the ball spilled out to Vardy. It would have been harder for him to miss the goals, and while Wales appealed for offside replays showed that the last touch came off the head of Williams, not an English player. England continued to push, and without the one-goal deficit looming over their heads they played with less pressure. Rooney nearly set up a goal after his free kick bounced around the Welsh penalty area like a pinball, but eventually Eric Dier’s shot was blocked. Sturridge mishit a volley, and Hodgson banked on the youngest player in the tournament, Marcus Rashford, to deliver England a goal. Rooney took a brilliant touch to evade Aaron Ramsey, but was immediately swamped by three Welsh defenders and had his shot blocked.
Wales were fighting hard, and while England still dominated possession they were not finding many genuine scoring chances. Alli threatened to create a goal when he made a beautiful run through the Welsh defence, but his shot was blocked. Cahill’s header went over the bar, and the game looked destined for a draw until Sturridge scored to win them the game. Bale had the last attempt of the match when he was open for a header inside the box, but he missed and England’s triumph was confirmed.
Lens – Stade Bollaert Delelis
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2)
Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Referee: Felix Brych (Ger)
England (4-3-3): Hart – Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Alli, Dier, Rooney; Lallana (Rashford 73), Kane (Vardy 46), Sterling (Sturridge 46).
Wales (5-3-2): Hennessey – Gunter, Chester, A Williams, Davies, Taylor; Ledley (Edwards 67), Ramsey, Allen; Robson-Kanu (J Williams 71), Bale.
1. Wayne Rooney (England)
Rooney was in control throughout the game, controlling the tempo of England’s attack and distributing the ball from midfield as he saw fit. His corners and free kicks proved a constant threat for the Welsh defence, and he delivered a performance that showed just how good he can be. He had some great chances, and was England’s best player.
2. Dele Alli (England)
Alli played a very strong game in the centre of the park, and he was able to find plenty of space in attack throughout. He was always able to find the ball, and he showed moments of his extraordinary skill with the ball at his feet. He drifted effectively between attack and midfield, and his work in the final third caused plenty of problems for Wales.
3. Ashley Williams (Wales)
Williams made a couple of mistakes during the game, including setting up Jamie Vardy for England’s first goal, but he was solid down back and used his vast international experience to marshal a Welsh defence which was able to stand up to the English pressure for most of the game. Williams fought for every ball, and as captain he set a great example for the rest of his team.
4. Jamie Vardy (England)
Vardy entered the game at half-time, and he had an immediate impact. He injected plenty of pace into the English attack, and he scored roughly 10 minutes after coming on. His pace and positioning in attack turned the game in England’s favour, and he was able to take his chances well. He was one of England’s best, and it would not be a surprise to see him start against Slovakia.
5. Daniel Sturridge (England)
Sturridge scored the winner in injury time, and he was lively throughout the second half. His cross was the catalyst for Vardy’s goal, and he was able to handle the pressure late on when he found himself one-on-one with Hennessey. He had plenty of opportunities, and while some were not as well taken as they could have been he played very well and had a big impact.