England bade farewell to Wembley in suitably muted mood yesterday, heading for the European Championship after another 1-0 victory with more injury concerns. The two results aside since Roy Hodgson belatedly took charge of the England team, little has gone their way as the new man faces up to the all too familiar problems of international management in general and this job in particular.
The decision to give the players more time off at the end of the domestic season does not appear to have had the desired effect and Hodgson has hardly been helped by having two tough physical games against Norway and Belgium, who were chosen on the basis that they vaguely resemble Sweden and France respectively, the first two opponents in the tournament.
Hodgson had said: "You don't model a side in two weeks." Once the squad meet up again on Wednesday, he has a maximum of five more days working with them before the opening game against the French. There is plenty to do, as a talented young Belgian side – lacking only a cutting edge – demonstrated before and after falling behind to Danny Welbeck's first international goal.
Welbeck was one of the successes with his running and finishing and may have played himself into the side for the first two games ahead of Andy Carroll while Wayne Rooney is suspended. Ashley Young again did well, pushed right up alongside him, and Jermain Defoe was at last given another chance as a substitute, striking a post near the end just after Belgium had done so. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, found the going harder on his debut; although willing and able to take his man on, he tended to find another one waiting and will do so as his reputation grows.
With Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and the third-choice goalkeeper John Ruddy all having dropped out of the original squad of 23, concern about injuries was ever-present and England were upset that the one to Gary Cahill was caused by an opponent who received a deserved booking.
In the 20th minute, the Chelsea defender was shepherding a ball that was just about within playing distance back to Joe Hart when the midfielder Dries Mertens pushed him painfully into the goalkeeper. England's physiotherapist Gary Lewin indicated after only a brief check that Cahill should come off and Joleon Lescott immediately replaced him. Belgium's tackling was feisty, England responded and with half an hour played, Scott Parker had joined Mertens in the referee's notebook. Physical vigour aside, Belgium presented a tactical problem by using Eden Hazard in the Lionel Messi role as a false No 9 who started in the centre-forward position but regularly drifted deep or out to the flanks.
With Everton's Marouane Fellaini pushing forward and the impressive Axel Witsel guarding their back four, the visitors controlled much of the early play before falling behind. They did not appear discomfited by losing Vincent Kompany shortly before kick-off, but he might have done better than his replacement, Timmy Simons, at preventing the goal. Steven Gerrard had won back possession and Young clipped a neat pass through, but Kompany's experience might have made life harder for Welbeck, running on to the pass for an excellent chipped finish over the Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
The other chances in the first half fell initially to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who utterly miscued the first as his left foot slipped but produced a better effort for the next one, driving wide after Welbeck set him up with a sharp run behind the defence.
Shortly before the interval Gerrard, who has been asked to play a more disciplined defensive role than he likes, broke forward for two shots in the same move, blocked by Simons and Guillaume Gillet.
Belgium, for all their fluid movement, had only Witsel's powerful drive over the bar to show for it until the second half. Then they began to take control and Hart had to save twice in quick succession.
Hodgson sent on Wayne Rooney for his United colleague Welbeck and after 20 minutes of the half he added Defoe and Theo Walcott to the mix for Young and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Defoe, appearing for the first time in 14 months, hit the post after being set up by Walcott, though only after a more fierce effort from the right-back Gillet thumped the English post with Hart a spectator.
Hodgson's coach Gary Neville finished the match in the technical area waving Rooney forward as Cole's block from his club-mate Romelu Lukaku and some weak Belgian finishing ensured that, as usual, England departed with a win. Now comes the harder part.
England (4-4-2): Hart; Johnson, Cahill (Lescott, 20), Terry (Jagielka, 70), Cole; Milner, Gerrard (Henderson, 83), Parker, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott, 66); Young (Defoe, 66), Welbeck (Rooney 53).
Belgium (4-1-4-1): Mignolet; G Gillet, Simons, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel; Mertens (Lukaku, 72), Fellaini, Dembelé, Mirallas (Chadli, 59); Hazard.
Referee Peter Rasmussen.
Man of the match Ashley Cole.
Match rating 6/10.
Jubilieve it? An afternoon of old stagers and next year's stars
Rio sees some hope
Though disappointed at not going to the Euros, Rio Ferdinand seemed happy with the prospects for the tournament. He tweeted: "Back in numbers + counter attack is the 'new' England...I'm seeing quarter-finals at least here. Hard to beat."
Award of the century
Patriotism was in the air on Diamond Jubilee weekend. Royal family lookalikes were among the Wembley crowd, while there were Uefa presentations to Sir Bobby Charlton, Peter Shilton, David Beckham and the families of Billy Wright and Bobby Moore for reaching the milestone of 100 England caps.
Links to Chelsea
Chelsea supporters and officials had particular interest in yesterday's opponents. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Romeleu Lukaku are all on the books. Kevin de Bruyne, signed from Genk in January, had a broken toe.
HawkEye makes quiet Wembley debut
Inevitably, on a day when goalline technology came to Wembley, there were no controversies like the Andy Carroll header that he thought had brought Liverpool a late equaliserin the FA Cup final against Chelsealast month.
The HawkEye technology was being tested as it had been in the Hampshire Senior Cup final last month – hence the unusual black nets – but it would not have been of any help to the Danish referee Peter Rasmussen.
Only the official testers, the International Association Football Board (the game's lawmakers) and Fifa representatives had access to the readings. A Danish system, GLT, isalso being trialled and the next stepis for Ifab to make a decision on implementing either system – or neither – at their meeting on 2 July.
The follies of youth
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the youngest player to start for England since Micah Richards' debut in 2006 led to claims he could be right-back for the next ten years. Mark, Chamberlain's dad, may also have reminded him that he scored on his own debut.