Defensive gaffes leave England needing a favour
England 2 Switzerland 2: Bent's miss adds to woe as automatic qualification hopes for Euro 2012 take a hit
Sunday 05 June 2011
The England squad will head off on their summer holidays this week by no means certain that they will be spending next June at the European Championship finals. Recovering from a 2-0 deficit in their final qualifying game of the season was only a minor positive, the greater significance lying in dropping two points at home, having done the same thing last October to closest rivals Montenegro.
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England could now do with a favour from Wales, bottom of Group G without a point, who play at home to the Montenegrins on 2 September, four days before coming to Wembley. Only one team qualify automatically and England's chances of finishing as the best of nine runners-up have been diminished by this setback. They conceded two dreadful goals in five minutes in the first half, both to direct free-kicks out on the wing taken by TranquilloBarnetta. Frank Lampard soon scored from a penalty and optimism was fuelled when Ashley Young equalised with fully 40 minutes left.
Fabio Capello surprisingly picked James Milner ahead of his old Villa club-mate because he believes Young's best position is in the centre of midfield. Introduced in that role for the second half, he perked England up and provided badly needed support for Darren Bent who should have scored a winning goal after further good work by Young. Bent's embarrassing miss, following another one when clean through, raised all the old questions about his suitability for international football after an excellent Premier League season. It also underlined Wayne Rooney's foolishness in getting himself suspended for two unnecessary yellow cards in earlier games. "We spoke too much yesterday about the quality of Bent," Capello reflected ruefully.
Switzerland, building for the futureafter becoming the World Under-17 champions in 2009, had scored only eight goals in 10 games – four of them in one match against Wales – since a slightly freakish 1-0 win over Spain at the World Cup. Having lost Marco Streller and Alex Frei, the two strikers who have served them for so long, they brought in two teenagers and looked impressive against a midfield missing Steven Gerrard, with Scott Parker and Lampard below par. Jack Wilshere was the best of the trio, winning England's penalty and playing the pass of the match to Bent.
As for the defence, the manner of the two Swiss goals was alarming, given that England started with a first-choice back four in front of Joe Hart. Ashley Cole, however, was forced off in the first half-an-hour, by which time Switzerland had asserted themselves with unexpected speed and assurance after an uncertain start. Eren Derdiyok, the lone striker, testedHart, who could not hold a deflectedeffort by the impressive captain Gokhan Inler a minute later and was then grateful to keep out Xherdan Shaqiri's curling drive.
Cole's replacement, Leighton Baines, found himself walking into a nightmare as England conceded twice in three minutes. In the 32nd minute Lampard gave away a free-kick in an apparently innocuous position on the left, but Barnetta's delivery dropped over the two central defenders, bounced and looped up past Hart. If that was sloppy, the next one was worse. This time Parker conceded the free-kick, closer to goal though still out wide. Barnetta opted for a lower trajectory which would have been blocked had the two-man wall of Milner and Theo Walcott not unaccountably split down the middle. Hart, entitled to expect that the pair were covering his near post, found the ball drifting inside it and could only help it on its way with his foot.
England badly needed an immediate riposte and were granted it thanks to two Arsenal players. Wilshere ran at the defence and lured Johan Djourou into a clear trip inside the penalty area. Lampard hit the penaltyhard and low, although he was a littlefortunate that Diego Benaglio dived over it.
It proved to be Lampard's last contribution, as he made way after the interval for Young. Milner would have been relieved that he was not the one to be sacrificed, though he was able to claim some credit for the equalising goal that arrived within six minutes of the restart. Following a throw-in, he crossed on to the chest of Baines, who laid the ball back into the path of Young for a firm strike low into the corner. Djourou must hate training sessions at Arsenal. Right at the start of the second half he could have collected a second yellow card when tripping Walcott. Next he allowed Wilshere's gorgeous pass to elude him, leaving Bent clear; only the onrushing Benaglio's block preventedSwitzerland falling behind.
If the striker was a little unfortunate there, he committed a shocking error in the next attack. Having set up Young, he was ideally positioned 10 yards out when the Villa man's shot came back off the goalkeeper, but clipped the ball over the bar.
In added time each side might have stolen an undeserved winner. The Swiss substitute Admir Mehmedi drove just wide from 15 yards and from the last kick of the game Stewart Downing, a substitute for Walcott, hit the side-netting from an acute angle. After muted boos from some home fans, it was Ottmar Hitzfeld's side who celebrated their point more happily in front of their followers.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Man of the match: Young
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