Fabio Capello last night laid in to his England players, declaring that they were lucky to beat Wales 1-0 to move a solitary point away from qualification for next summer's European Championship, after a match overshadowed by the death of a Wales fan in fighting outside the stadium.
The death of the man, in his late 40s, left a fine performance from Gary Speed's side shrouded in tragedy. Six supporters were arrested last night after the fight between rival Wales fans, which broke out 25 minutes before kick-off. It is nearly 18 years since a Wales fan died in Cardiff from a flare thrown across the stadium after the nation lost a crucial World Cup qualifier to Romania.
England owed their narrow victory to one of the most catastrophic misses the Wales national side has known, when substitute Robert Earnshaw spooned over the bar from point-blank range 13 minutes from time. Capello declared that his side, who moved the ball slowly and generally lacked incision, had played to their potential for only 20 minutes.
The manager agreed that his players, who he said had "suffered" against Gary Speed's 117th-ranked nation, would have to play well for the entire 90 minutes if they were to beat the continent's best at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. "It's important. We need to play always... we need to be the owner of the pitch, absolutely," Capello said. "I think we need not to play 20 minutes well, like the last 20 minutes of the first half, but for the whole game. You can suffer, I know... sometimes the opponents come forward, try to do something, change, but I think we never must lose what we want to do. In every moment of the game."
Despite the result, which leaves England needing a point from their match with Montenegro in Podgorica on 7 October, the night was a vindication of Speed's own attempts to get Wales moving the ball quickly. The tragedy was Earnshaw's, the last man out of the Wales dressing room, who said last night: "For me personally I'm annoyed. To say the least I'm pissed off. I won't be watching it again, that's for sure."
Capello said England's "big mistake in front of goal" – Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling allowed 30-year-old Earnshaw his open goal, with Joe Hart nowhere – brought "luck" when the chance was spurned. The pressure of playing at Wembley, where England's performances have been far inferior, had affected the side, the manager admitted. "I think, probably, here we lose the confidence. We hit four or five balls in front of goal but there was only ever one player in there. I always want three in front of goal, but we had no movement. We missed this. But I'm happy with the result and, sometimes, it is the most important thing."
Wales had England severely rattled in the opening 30 minutes, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey threatening and the home side's play riddled with unforced errors, and it was only Ashley Young's 35th-minute goal, after Stewart Downing's excellent run and cross, which broke the spell. But Wales were resurgent in a second half which they dominated.
Speed said his side deserved a draw. "I think we played a great second half," he said. "We know coming to a place like this, to a top-four team in the world, that we'd come under pressure at some time, so we wanted to stay in the game. We did that well. We knew it would open up in the second half and we'd get our passing game going, and we managed to open them up. We were unlucky with Earnshaw's chance, and Bale was half a yard onside when he went through. I'm still very proud of my players: how comfortable they were in that second half, in particular."
Of Earnshaw's miss Speed added: "If you'd want one person in that position it'd be Earnie. He's Wales through and through, will always turn up and play. If we had 25 of him we would go a long way. If [the miss came] this time next year we would be ruing it. But it's not and the performance far outweighed the miss."Reuse content