Shocking England saved by Ashley Young

LONDON, Wembley – Ashley Young proved to be the difference between England and Wales with his third goal for the Three Lions. England’s first victory at Wembley in over more than one year came in an entirely unconvincing fashion. Nonetheless Capello’s team are now on the verge of qualifying for the EURO2012 finals.

Englandcan breathe a sigh of relief after a poor performance against the stubborn Welsh. The home side struggled against the tight-marking visitors and a worrying lack of creativity didn’t help to break down the Welsh defense. In the 76th minute England were let off the hook when Robert Earnshaw, who had replaced Morrison earlier on, missed an absolute sitter. Darcy Blake’s nod back fell to Earnshaw with the goalkeeper nowhere near and the goal gaping, but somehow he managed to spoon it over from just a few yards out.

Fabio Capello had promised to give the England fans an encouraging performance, but right from the start England it became apparent that England were in for a though night as Rooney and co struggled to impose their will against a Welsh side that sat back deep and constantly had 8 or 9 players behind the ball. The midfield trio, led by Frank Lampard, failed to dictate the play and, despite trying to open up the game via the wings, England found it hard to create a clear-cut chance and never really threatened Hennessey. England simply did not seem to entertain the thought of two-touch football. It would be a reoccurring pattern throughout the 90 minutes.

After 8 minutes John Terry opened hostilities heading an Ashley Young cross just wide. On the right side Stuart Downing proved to be lively, but he delivered only half-decent crosses. The same Downing tried a scissors kick just before the half-hour mark, but it was not a night for great antics and his attempt flew skywards.

A static England were slowly getting frustrated and nervy, but Ashley Young’s third senior England goal provided relief: Downing danced his way past Welsh right-back Ledley before cutting back to Young who slammed it in at the near post from 10 yards. It was the breakthrough that England needed against a Welsh side, who had until Young’s goal rarely been in trouble.

Walesproduced very little in the final third of the field with Gary Speed surprisingly opting to play his star player Gareth Bale on the right, fitting him against the experienced Ashley Cole rather than the suspect Chris Smalling. Could Wales muster anything in the offensive compartment in the second half?

If the first half was bleak from England’s point of view, the second half turned nearly into a nightmare. The longer the game went on, the worse it got. Not that Wales besieged Joe Hart at any stage. On the contrary, the Dragons hardly got out of their own half and when in possession seemed at a loss to do something with it.

Yet in a game of few chances, Wales were bound to get a decent sight of goal once. A glorious opportunity fell to Robert Earnshaw just inside the last 15 minutes of the game. The Cardiff City player received the ball unmarked inside the box with Joe Hart at his mercy, but he blasted it over to the disbelief of the Wales coaching staff on the sideline and to huge cheers of the Wembley crowd.

The Welsh fans did not lose their sense of humor for it and sang: ‘Fourth in the World, you are having a laugh.’ It poignantly summed up England’s night. England produced one good move during the entire 90 minutes and it was enough to ensure the three points, but apart from the fortuitous victory – Wales deserved a draw – there were precious, little positives to take from the game. England returned to their bad, old habits and the only possible comfort is that both Downing and Young managed to not be dragged down to the level of the players alongside them.

After a desperate evening at Wembley, England have moved closer to EURO2012. With one point needed away to Montenegro to book England’s ticket for next year’s finals, a big improvement will be required from the Three Lions. So once more, it’s back to the drawing board for Fabio Capello.

The ogre Capello rings changes to tackle Bale

LONDON – Grumpy, old Capello led out England yesterday for a closed training session at Wembley, as England take on Wales today, eyeing to close in on qualification for EURO2012 in Poland and Ukraine. He intends to change his winning formation in a bid to stop the threat posed by the explosive Gareth Bale.

An encounter between England and Wales often conjures up images of mythical creatures, which once led an observer to suggest that an abject Welsh performance explained why dragons became extinct.

But on a more serious note, Fabio Capello was not in a very upbeat or talkative mood ahead of what may well be his last competitive match at Wembley. The England manager exploded in anger during the training session when his instructions about not throwing-in the ball down the line were not properly followed by his players.

Capello explained: ‘The game against Bulgaria was good, but yesterday I showed the highlights of the mistakes we made against them and my players made the same mistakes today.’ John Terry confirmed that Capello’s eye for detail is very impressive. He is determined to refine and develop his players to bestow them with the ability to play in different circumstances at the highest level – to tackle the daunting task of playing against the cream of Europe next year in Poland and Ukraine.

Capello’s rage with his players portrays him as a tyrant and a dictator. It is an image that has accompanied the Italian throughout his England tenure. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa last summer, the England players were holed up at basecamp, but the rigid regime of Capello backfired when Germany tore England apart in a humbling second-round defeat. A galvanized Germany with Mesut Ozil simply brushed aside a woeful England side, prompting wide-spread calls for Capello to be sacked.

Yet Capello says the situation has changed now. According to him the players are now more relaxed around him: ‘I haven’t changed my style but the players understand me better now.’ Introducing a fictional monster, Capello, seeing the funny side of things, dismissed his reputation of being stiff and inflexible: ‘I am not an ogre.’

The relationship between Capello and his players thus seems to be at an all-time high and therefore the England team knows exactly what the coach expects tonight at Wembley. England will look to get rid of their poor, post-World Cup home record, which has seen them draw on three occasions and lose against France. The idea of ‘fortress Wembley’ may be distant, but England know that a simple victory against Wales will suffice to virtually ensure qualification for the EURO2012 finals.

After the clinical performance against Bulgaria, one may feel Capello would be inclined to adhere to the saying ‘never change a winning team’. Yet Capello feels that the circumstances demand a different approach and has indicated that he will change the shape and the style of the side. ‘We are playing at home and that means it is different game. Visiting teams came here and sit back. It is difficult for us to break the opposing defense down and score goals.’

Aside from the way the visitors respond to being away from home, Capello acknowledges that Gareth Bale is Wales’ biggest threat and much of his planning for tonight’s game centers on countering Wales’ number 11.  The Tottenham winger has 29 caps under his belt for Wales, but didn’t play in Cardiff back in March due to injury. His devastating pace is a worry for Capello: ‘Bale is a fantastic player. It is difficult to stop him. He receives the ball fast, attacks the space and is very fast. He makes a difference and we need to be careful whenever he receives the ball.’

The more defensive minded James Milner will replace Theo Walcott on the right side of the field to provide extra cover for the inexperienced Chris Smalling from Manchester United. There is no doubt that Bale and Wales will try to exploit this potential weakness in England’s rearguard. However with Craig Bellamy missing, Bale may take up a more withdrawn role, which won’t enable him to run at the England defense with his turbo-charges at will.

The inclusion of Milner, lining up next to Barry and Parker, is an indication that Capello will field a 4-3-3 formation, which proved highly effective in Cardiff. In the final third of the field Ashley Young, blossoming as a player under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, will act in a supporting role for England’s main striker Wayne Rooney. If the Manchester United pair can reproduce their antics from last Friday, they are bound to give the Welsh defense serious trouble and may swing the game England’s way.

The banana skin for England, who are the favorites, in trying to dismantle the Wales defense is a lack of patience quickly turning into frustration and nerviness, which in turn endangers England’s composure. A repeat of England’s World Cup qualifier against Greece back in 2001 springs to mind. The stage is set for an intriguing battle between Capello and Gary Speed, between England and Wales, or in some minds, Ogre v Shrek.

Sangakkara secures draw for Sri Lanka

England have won the Npower Test series against Sri Lanka, as the third and final test at the Rose Bowl ended in a draw. The tourists though end on a high as their stand-in captain Kumar Sangakarra scored his maiden Test century in England ensuring a draw for his team.

After Sri Lanka had resumed on 112-3 on the final day, 81 behind, Sangakkara (119) shared 65 with nightwatchman Rangana Herath (35). The visitors also showed impressive resilience in the person of Thilan Samaraweera, who guided them with  unbeaten  87 to tea. As rain began to fall, England had no choice but to settle for a draw.

Meanwhile, at Sabina Park the West Indies were 34-1 at stumps on day 1 after having bowled out India for 246. The tourists were in trouble at 85-6, but an impressive seventh wicket stand  between Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina for 146 runs ensured India got a defendable first innings total. In reply Simmons fell cheaply for 3 to Ishant Sharma. 

James Anderson returns for England

James Anderson has been recalled by England for the third and final test against Sri Lanka, which starts this Thursday at the Rose Bowl. The England seamer picked up a side strain injury in the first Test, which England went on to win in dramatic style.

Anderson was due to prove his fitness during Lancashire's Twenty20 match against Worcestershire at New Road on Sunday but the game was  abandoned without a ball bowled because of  persistent rain. His England return means that Stuart Broad, Steve Finn or Chris Tremlett will be dropped.

India veto use of DRS

India's forthcoming tour of England will take place without the use of the Decision Review System (DRS). The BCCI has decided to veto the use of technology after concerns from senior India players. MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar are among those players who oppose the DRS system. The news comes as a blow to England, who have become quite astute in the use of the review system.

India are ranked the number one Test team and begin their four-match series against England at Lord's on 21 July. That match is scheduled to be the 2,000th Test in the history of the sport and the 100th between England and India.

England and Sri Lanka draw at Lords

No suprises at Lords on the final day of the 2nd Test match between England and Sri Lanka. England set the tourists a total of 343 in 58 overs to win, but Tharanga Paranavitana (44) showed courage and kept the English at bay. The  Sri Lankans battled their way to 127-3 before the teams decided to settle for a draw.

England thus take a 1-0 series lead to the Rose Bowl where the teams will meet for the third and final test  later this month. It has been confirmed in the mean time that Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Sri Lankan captain, has been ruled out for the third test because of a broken thumb. 

More to follow this saturday during World Scorpio!