Euro 2016: Heed this, Hodgson

Euro 2016: Heed this, Hodgson
ON THE DOUBLE: Danny Welbeck celebrating with Rickie Lambert after scoring his second goal against Switzerland.

GROUP E

SWITZERLAND 0

ENGLAND 2 (Danny Welbeck 58, 90+4)

Boy, did Roy Hodgson need that.

England's 2-0 victory in Switzerland in their opening Group E qualifier yesterday morning (Singapore time) was a massive boost to their hopes of securing qualification for Euro 2016 but, more than that, it secured his position after the most difficult week of his stewardship.

Under fire from all angles, he sent out an exciting young team and was rewarded with a performance that offered real promise. Now it's time to build. This is not an opportunity that can be ignored.

England will not mess up qualification now.

Switzerland are the only serious rivals in an astonishingly easy group. San Marino, Lithuania and Estonia are all very weak, only Slovenia will offer anything approaching a challenge. No England manager has ever had a more straightforward path to a tournament. The time for caution is over.

Hodgson has been accused in the past over being too defensive. He has a chance now to prove his critics wrong.

These young players should be given the opportunity to play together over an extended period, growing comfortable with each other, learning each other's styles and foibles. There is no "golden generation" to slow them down now. This could be a team built on pace and adventure.

Danny Welbeck was indicative of this new hope. Given a chance to play as a centre forward, he ran himself into the ground for the cause, scoring twice and leading from the front. Arsenal's supporters would have been delighted to see this version of Welbeck.

They knew that he was quick, they knew that he was strong and, if they watched him closely enough, they'd know that he was smart too. But finishing has never been his strong point. But, when young players are trusted and given a run in the team, this is what they can do. You only had to watch the way he took the second goal at the end of the game.

He had the pace to latch onto the ball, the strength to hold off the defenders and, finally, the composure to wait for his moment and then slot the ball home. There had been more than enough clues for Hodgson as to where the future lay, finally he was able to see them.

Raheem Sterling's return to the point of the diamond had re-energised England against Norway and it did the same here.

While the youngster was a little careless in possession and slightly out of synchronisation with his teammates, the invention and effort were there in abundance. He should never have been moved out of that role.

Wayne Rooney still struggled to offer up his best football, but at least there was willing here before his legs went towards the end. He is worryingly sluggish these days, but his experience was evident in the build-up to England's first goal.

While he could have been forgiven for going for goal, he took the time to pick out Sterling on the flank and the Liverpool man fired in a low cross for Welbeck to convert. It was, by no means, a perfect display.

Switzerland repeatedly opened up their guests and England had Joe Hart and Gary Cahill to thank for two match-winning moments.

The drawback to a diamond formation is that it can leave the fullbacks exposed and it could not be said that England were particularly comfortable at any point in the game. But, given the hapless nature of their performances in the last year, those concerns can wait for another time.

It was enough for the long-suffering England supporters to see some pace in the team, some endeavour, some ambition. They are far from the finished article, but this was a huge step in the right direction.

Hodgson will be a relieved man today. He will know full well that this could have been the end for him as England manager.

Now it's time to take advantage.

England are at their best when they are at their boldest. Pace and youth are the way forward.


This article was first published on September 10, 2014.
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