England secure narrow victory against Belgium

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England‘s Euro 2012 preparations were rocked by fresh injury concerns on Saturday after Danny Welbeck‘s maiden international goal helped Roy Hodgson‘s side seal a 1-0 win over Belgium at Wembley.

Manchester United youngster Welbeck’s coolly-taken first-half strike made it two wins out of two for new England manager Hodgson following last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Norway in Oslo.

However what should have been a happy send-off for England in their final friendly match before their daunting European Championship opener with France on June 11 was overshadowed by concern over defensive linchpins Gary Cahill and John Terry.

Cahill needed an X-ray for a possible fractured cheekbone, which, if confirmed, would rule him out of the tournament, while Terry departed in the second half after complaining of a tight hamstring.

“If he’s fractured the jaw, which is a distinct possibility, then once again we lose another key element of our original group to go to Poland,” Hodgson said of Cahill. “If he hasn’t fractured it and it’s a case of a bad bruise instead it won’t stop him from going with us and it won’t stop him from playing.”

Terry also faces a scan on Sunday although Hodgson was more optimistic about the Chelsea captain’s prospects.

“There’s a slight worry on John Terry. We’ve worked quite hard this week. Players are going to feel a bit tight in their muscles,” Hodgson said.

“As far as John was concerned he felt a slight tightening on his hamstring. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than fatigue but he will also have a scan tomorrow (Sunday) and I’ll have a definite answer then.”

If either player was ruled out it would be another hammer blow to England’s preparations, after midfielders Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard both withdrew from the squad this week through injury.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, meanwhile, said his side, who dominated possession for long periods, had not deserved to lose.

“I saw a Belgium team that controlled the game. Unfortunately we gave away a goal but I don’t think we deserved to lose — a draw would have been a fair result. We controlled the match,” Wilmots said.

Welbeck’s finish was a rare moment of class from England, who struggled to create genuine goalscoring chances in their last game before their daunting Euro 2012 opener against France in Donetsk on June 11.

Arsenal teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made the most of his first senior start, but spurned a couple of promising early openings before being replaced midway through the second half.

The festive mood amongst both sets of fans was not matched by players in the middle, meanwhile, and the opening exchanges were notable for a string of feisty collisions that led to bookings for both teams.

Dries Mertens was the first to be cautioned on 17 minutes for a sly shove on Cahill that sent the Chelsea defender crashing into goalkeeper Joe Hart, forcing the Chelsea defender to withdraw.

“The referee gave him a yellow card which of course he deserved but unfortunately for us the consequences of the action might be a lot worse than a yellow card,” an unhappy Hodgson complained later.

Scott Parker then earned a yellow card after a late challenge on Jan Vertonghen, the Ajax centre-back who has been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur this summer.

Belgium looked far more comfortable in possession but a forward line with no natural predator lacked the cutting edge to unlock a solid English back four.

England, by contrast, looked happy to wait for openings, and their opening goal came with a rapier-like break from midfield.

Welbeck and Steven Gerrard won the ball in midfield and fed Ashley Young, who in turn threaded a superb pass to Welbeck, who lifted the deftest of finishes above the advancing Simon Mignolet.

With England making a flurry of changes in the opening period of the second half, the game lost its rhythm, and the edge that had been present in the opening 45 minutes quickly dissipated.

Welbeck made way for Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney on 53 minutes while soon afterwards Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Terry were replaced by Jermain Defoe, Theo Walcott and Phil Jagielka.

The changes did nothing to increase England’s potency, and Mignolet did not have a save to make throughout the second half.

Guillaume Gillet went close to levelling for Belgium on 78 minutes when his thunderous long-range effort flashed off the post.

Four minutes later England had their best chance of the second half; Walcott releasing Defoe, whose low angled strike cannoned back off the foot of the post.

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