Goals in the opening 15 minutes from Frank Lampard and Darren Bent gave England a comfortable 2-0 victory over Wales in the Millennium Stadium.
Fabio Capello’s side set out playing with a flexible 4-3-2-1 formation, with Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney playing from out to in, in support of Darren Bent, the lone frontman. That trio were backed up by a tight three-man midfield of Lampard, Jack Wilshere and West Ham United’s Scott Parker, winning only his fifth cap at the age of 30.
In front of a hostile Welsh crowd before kick-off, England took the game to their hosts, ranked 116th in the FIFA world rankings, straight from kick-off and took the lead in only the seventh minute.
Good link-up play from the Chelsea duo Ashley Cole and John Terry down the left saw the England skipper slide a ball past a slipping James Collins into Ashley Young on the edge of the penalty area. Young advanced into the area and was clumsily fouled by Collins. Frank Lampard tucked home his 21st international goal, sending Wayne Hennessey the wrong way from the penalty spot and firmly silencing the jeers from the home crowd.
Eight minutes later and England were two goals up and out of sight.
An incisive long pass from Glen Johnson, back to the normality of right-back having been stationed on the left-side of Liverpool’s defence in recent weeks, cut out the Wales defender Danny Colllins, finding Ashley Young, whose rolled cross found Darren Bent, six yards out, to tap home. Wales were shell-shocked.
Gary Speed, in only his second match in charge of the country whom he represented with distinguish as a player, had set his side out to play possession football, working it through the defence and midfield. However, they couldn’t pass their way past a tigerish England midfield, who pressed high and won the ball back more often than not – a far cry from the tame performances at the World Cup in South Africa, albeit against much superior opposition.
Young, the Villa winger who has been linked with big money summer moves to both Liverpool and Manchester United, was revelling in his position playing in between the lines and almost scored an outrageous third, volleying just over Hennessey’s crossbar from 25 yards, after a clever throw from Ashley Cole.
Wales, many of whose players wouldn’t have played in front of 70,000 before, looked inhibited in front of such a vast crowd and didn’t have a shot on Joe Hart’s goal in the first 45.
The second period began with England remaining accomplished in the middle third and Young continuing to cause problems to the Wales backline – almost creating a third for Rooney – whilst Wales belatedly had a few efforts from range most notably through skipper Aaron Ramsay, who looked short of match sharpness after his long injury battle. The only clear opportunity fell to Steve Morison, but the Millwall striker’s touch let him down, when a more instinctive finisher would have certainly got a shot away.
England were comfortable throughout, and a late effort from Stewart Downing, which flashed just wide of Hennessey’s right-hand post, almost added the seal to a performance of many positives. The only sour note however, a yellow card for Rooney, following a needless challenge on Joe Ledley, which means he’ll miss the June qualifier against Switzerland.
All in all it was a good performance from Fabio Capello’s side, albeit against second-rate opposition. Ghana should provide a sterner test on Tuesday evening, but the full backing of the English public won’t be forthcoming until a performance of such composure is seen against one of Europe’s true power nations.