By Phil McNulty Chief football writer in Basel
- Danny Welbeck’s first England goals in a year
- Joe Hart and Gary Cahill deny Swiss
- Fabian Delph makes first start for England
England made the perfect start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as two second-half strikes from Arsenal’s £16m new boy Danny Welbeck gave them victory in Switzerland.
Manager Roy Hodgson needed his side to produce an encouraging performance and positive result after the misery of going out of the World Cup in Brazil at the group stage in the summer – and this did the job on both counts.
England were indebted to two vital saves by goalkeeper Joe Hart from Haris Seferovic and a vital goal-line clearance from Gary Cahill, but this victory was fully deserved and showed promising signs for the future.
Switzerland – ninth in Fifa’s world rankings in August after reaching the last 16 of the World Cup, with England 20th – posed a threat but ended up being well beaten.
The merits of Hodgson using the diamond formation, which suits Raheem Sterling perfectly, was shown as Liverpool’s youngster set up former Manchester United star Welbeck’s first goal just before the hour and was also involved as Anfield team-mate Rickie Lambert laid on the striker’s second in stoppage time.
England’s defence – Phil Jones in particular – still had moments of vulnerability but this meeting with Switzerland was regarded as the toughest assignment in the group with San Marino, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia to come. From that point of view, this was mission accomplished.
|Match facts (Courtesy of Opta)|
|Fabian Delph completed all 26 of his passes in the first half v Switzerland.||England had more shots on target in the first half than in their previous two matches combined.|
|Wayne Rooney created four goalscoring chances versus Switzerland, twice as many as any other player in the game.||England have won a competitive game outside of their country for the first time since March 2013 versus San Marino.|
With the post-World Cup apathy reflected in an attendance of just over 40,000 for England’s friendly against Norway at Wembley last week, Hodgson could ill-afford a poor start to this Euro 2016 qualifying group.
Hodgson had shown signs of strain after the Norway win but cut a more relaxed figure here – and England delivered a result and performance that lifted his mood even more.
And as a signpost for the future, Hodgson has surely found a formation – with Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere at the base of the diamond and Sterling at its tip – that he should settle on as England negotiate a group which should be nothing more than a foundation for success in France.
Sterling provided pace and strength, having a hand in both Welbeck goals, with England’s pace on the counter-attack too much for Switzerland to handle.
|BBC football analyst Danny Mills|
|“The World Cup was hopeless. It was absolutely diabolical.|
|“It’s basically the same group of players, with a couple of retirements, and they have gone from diabolical to decent and respectable this evening. It’s a long process but we have seen signs of positivity.”|
Wayne Rooney also thrived surrounded by speed and willing runners and England’s new captain showed his usual willingness to take responsibility and do his share of the donkey work.
Hodgson will also lean on those he has trusted in the past – and in Hart he found someone who excelled when called upon in Basel.
England gave a first start to Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph and he emerged with much credit, although he must also reflect on a lack of discipline that earned him an early yellow card and running the risk of even further punishment.
|England’s Euro 2016 qualifiers|
|Switzerland(a) 0-2;(h) 8 September 2015|
|San Marino(h) 9 October 2014;(a) 5 September 2015|
|Estonia(a) 12 October 2014;(h) 9 October 2015|
|Slovenia(h) 15 November 2014;(a) 14 June 2015|
|Lithuania(h) 27 March 2015;(a) 12 October 2015|
Jones, who has usurped Everton captain Phil Jagielka following the World Cup, was uncertain throughout and he was grateful to Hart for keeping England on level terms when he lost possession to Xherdan Shaqiri and, when he played in Seferovic, Manchester City’s keeper was off his line to block.
England’s speed on the counter was eye-catching and could have brought rewards on the break had Welbeck shot rather than attempt an ill-judged cross that missed both Sterling and Rooney.
Welbeck was on the mark after Hart had once again stopped Seferovic, getting on the end of Sterling’s perfect cross after Rooney had broken swiftly on the Swiss defence.
|24 teams will play at the finals in France|
|53 teams will chase 23 places, with the hosts taking the other place|
|The winners from eight groups of six and one group of five, runners-up and the best third-placed team will reach the finals|
|The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest two-legged play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers|
Cahill was England’s hero as Switzerland pressed, with a superb goal-line clearance from Josip Drmic – and the final word was left to Welbeck as he took Lambert’s pass in his stride in the dying seconds to beat Yann Sommer.
Hodgson punched the air in delight, and perhaps a measure of relief, as England made a start on their road to redemption after Brazil.