Lethargic Lions struggle to draw against useful Swiss

by Nicholas Godden

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

England   2   –   2   Switzerland

Lampard (pen) 37     Barnetta 32, 35
Young 51

Even the most ardent of England fans could have been forgiven for forgetting this England international was even on the calendar. The Premier League climax, Champions League final and corruption allegations within FIFA have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, overshadowing the build-up to this important Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland

England entered the match at Wembley top of Group G, albeit only on goal difference from Montenegro, knowing that victory would take them one step closer to next year’s finals. The Swiss, however, were sure to pose a stern test. Almost one year on from their famous victory against the would-be world champions, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side offer a more potent threat up-front due to an injection of youthful, attacking talent.

The biggest surprise before kick-off was Fabio Capello’s bewildering decision to omit the in-form Ashley Young from the starting line-up. Instead, opting for James Milner, despite the Manchester City man’s fairly ominous debut season with the club. A decision the England coach would eventually regret.

England began the match sluggishly, a stark contrast to the two previous internationals, as the Swiss controlled the lions-share of possession in the early stages. The high-tempo pressing game that England adopted to devastating effect against Wales eluded them as the Swiss were afforded time on the ball.

Joe Hart was the by far the busier of the two keepers in the early exchanges. Called into action to deny Gokhan Inler from range before the England number one smartly palmed away a curling effort from the impressive Xherdan Shaqiri, as the visitors continued to look more accomplished than their English counterparts.

Leighton Baines was introduced for the injured Ashley Cole, the Chelsea full back’s evening came to a premature end following a last-ditch block on Valon Behrami. Then a disastrous three minutes for England.

There appeared to be little danger when Switzerland were awarded a free kick after Glen Johnson was caught in possession. Tranquillo Barnetta floated the ball towards the six-yard area. Rio Ferdinand failed to deal with the cross as Hart dived in vain to his left. The free-kick curled straight in, 0-1 Switzerland. England in trouble.

Three minutes later the trouble deepened as Hart was again caught out by a Barnetta free-kick. Though the England stopper could justifiably place the blame at the feet of the two-man wall he deployed. As Milner broke from Theo Walcott, Barnetta drove his shot between the two catching Hart out at his near post from a tight angle. England’s number one flung out a leg in desperation but could only help he ball over the line.

Just as the game looked to be slipping away, England were thrown a lifeline. An energetic burst from Jack Wilshere ended as Johan Djourou’s poorly timed lunge on his Arsenal teammate resulted in a penalty kick. Frank Lampard duly dispatched, with little conviction however, as the ball found its way under the body of Diego Benaglio.

It was to be Lampard’s first and only contribution to the match. The ineffective Chelsea midfielder replaced at half-time by Ashley Young. A telling moment perhaps – Lampard’s days in an England shirt could well be numbered.

Young’s introduction invigorated a lackluster England side as they begun the second-half on the front foot. Young at the heart of everything, and it was the Villain who turned the hero as Baines chested down for Young to volley a superb equalizer past the helpless Benaglio. Capello’s decision to leave him out turned from puzzling to criminal.

More than 30 minutes remained. A third goal seemed likely as England applied the pressure. Darren Bent’s ability to play at international level continues to be questioned, despite prolific form in the Premier League. The Villa front-man did himself no favours, however, as he squandered two great chances to give England the lead.

First, he latched on to Wilshere’s impeccably weighted pass only to be thwarted by the on-rushing Benaglio, who reacted superbly. The second was less forgivable. Benaglio parried Young’s 20-yard strike right into the path of Bent who, from 12 yards, could only balloon over.

As the game neared its conclusion Capello’s men looked tired and lethargic, the game began to fizzle out. Switzerland were comfortable in possession while England’s charges had run out of steam. The draw, a disappointing end to the season, but England deserved nothing more. The result was less damning than it might have been though. Montenegro could only manage a point at home to Bulgaria. England remain top with tricky games in Montenegro and Bulgaria still to come.

by Nicholas Godden

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  • darren

    this is by no means an I told you so. but I’ve never been a Sven McClaren fan, from day 1 his tactics and general baffoonery have been an embarrassment to the national game.

    The quicker we sacked him and replace him Redknapp the better. We’ll have more chance in Poland without him. Providing we qualify from a piss easy group that is!

  • http://justeunjeu.wordpress.com Nicholas Godden

    Cant see the FA sacking him before Euro 2012, unless, of course, we fail to qualify.

    My only concern with Redknapp is that he is a great man-manager, which works well at club level because he spends so much time with the players, but I don’t think he is tactically astute enough to e an international manager.

    Plus, he is a bit of a dodgy bloke (tax issues) and a mercenary.

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