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England 3-1 Switzerland: Game Recap

Wayne Rooney broke his scoreless streak against Switzerland, but Jermain Defoe was less lucky, wasting several chances and then going off injured.
Wayne Rooney broke his scoreless streak against Switzerland, but Jermain Defoe was less lucky, wasting several chances and then going off injured.

A deserved victory for England, who were excellent for most of the game. Aside from a wobble in the middle of the second half, the visitors completely dominated Switzerland, who were toothless in front of goal until Xherdan Shaqira made an appearance late on in the game. Only the profligacy of Jermain Defoe prevented the match being settled in the first half, but late goals by Adam Johnson and Darren Bent gave England a crucial victory.  The win puts England at first overall in Group G, ahead of Montenegro on goal differential and six points ahead of Wales, Switzerland, and Bulgaria.

The Swiss defence was able to deal with Spain's short, sharp passing in the World Cup, but England were able to open them up thanks to blazing speed down the flanks and the willingness to challenge players one on one. Theo Walcott started very brightly, skipping repeatedly past defenders on the right flank, and both fullbacks were very lively throughout. Meanwhile the centre of midfield was pretty quiet, with Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry reduced to holding roles and pushing most of their passes to wide areas. Wayne Rooney played a little further forward than he did against Bulgaria due to the compactness of the Swiss side, but had a fairly successful game anyway.

Prior to the game, Rooney's international goal drought was standing at eleven games, a tally not even the much-maligned Emile Heskey had managed in his England career. Within ten minutes, the duck was broken. Walcott fed Glen Johnson down the right, who skipped over a challenge from Reto Ziegler before bolting to the touchline. His cutback was dummied by Defoe before reaching Rooney, who was six yards out and completely open. It's difficult to miss from there, and a first time sidefoot finish took the ball past Diego Benaglio and into the back of the net. Unfortunately for England and Arsenal, Theo Walcott picked up a nasty looking ankle injury just as Rooney scored, and was stretchered off the field. Adam Johnson was his replacement as Capello was forced to burn a substitute just ten minutes in.

Johnson picked up right where Walcott left off (no, not the getting injured part) by repeatedly burning Switzerland down the right flank. James Milner was also performing admirably, and the rest of the first half typically consisted of chance after chance coming England's way due to clever wing play and overlapping runs from Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole. Most of them fell to Defoe, who smashed each and every opportunity miles over the goal, as karma extracted its fees after the Bulgaria hat-trick.

Switzerland barely had a kick inside England territory for the entire first half - they were too busy trying to defend with their lives to do anything so timorous as launch an attack. It's pretty interesting that this team - which wasn't too different to the one that was so hard to get past in the World Cup - could be so easily brushed aside by applying speed and an element of physical play at the wings. They were opened up to try to combat the outside threat, then the England fullbacks overloaded the wings anyway, so Switzerland were essentially committing more men than they had to to areas they couldn't control anyway. This meant that they were unable to do much of anything when they did recover the ball, as they had too many men wide and deep in their own half when possession switched.

The second half because much as the first half ended, with England probing down the wing and generating chances through Milner and Johnson. However, Ottmar Hitzfeld had made a key change at the break, introducing Xherdan Shaqiri, who turned out to be a pacey winger rather than a Star Wars bounty hunter or a pop goddess. By deploying Shaqiri high on the left side, Switzerland were able to thwart Johnson's penetrating forward runs and slowly force the defender to actually defend. This has never been Johnson's strongest suit, and the Swiss actually managed to lay siege to England's goal for a few minutes as a result. However, pushing men forward meant opening up space in the back, which meant England had some serious counter-attacking potential.

When Milner found himself isolated against Stephen Lichsteiner deep down the right after a deft touch had prevented a long pass from going out of play, about the best England fans could have been expecting was a cross into the area for the onrushing Rooney. The Swiss right back would have none of that, however, scything Milner down as he tried to skip by his man - and Lichsteiner was already on a yellow card. It was a pretty easy decision for the referee to pull the second yellow from his pocket and reduce Switzerland to 10 men, a hammer blow for a side who were just starting to get back into the game.

Just as they were starting to recover from the shock of losing Lichsteiner, Steven Gerrard stepped out of anonymity to play a delightful ball through the middle for Adam Johnson. With the defence stranded, Johnson pushed the ball past the keeper, kept his balance, and slotted into the open net with a calm left footed finish. It was the second goal that came at something of a cost to England, however, as very early in the buildup Jermain Defoe was left sitting in the middle of the pitch, unable to continue. With Tottenham already losing Michael Dawson on Friday, one can't imagine Harry Redknapp is particularly pleased by this turn of events. Darren Bent came on for Defoe.

2-0 with a man advantage should have been game over, and it would have been if not for a wonder-strike by that make Shaqiri. After the Swiss went down to 10-men, the teenager had detached himself from the left wing and started to drift all over the pitch, so his picking the ball up on the Swiss right was nothing surprising. What was a little more shocking was the way he floated past Barry, looked up, and hammered the ball into the top corner from about thirty yards. There was nothing Joe Hart could do about the shot, which swerved so violently it looked as though it had taken a deflection on the way in.

Suddenly Switzerland were playing football and England were reeling. Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced an increasingly isolated Rooney; Capello was clearly counting on the diminutive winger's speed to make an impact as the home team pushed up the field in hopes of grabbing an equaliser. Wright-Phillips seemed unsure of his role, popping up on the left, right, and in the middle and quite thoroughly confusing James Milner in the process, but he was a useful, albeit wasteful outlet for the English counter-attack.

The clincher was provided by Darren Bent after a neat pass by Ashley Cole. 15 yards out and with just the keeper to beat from a difficult angle, Bent produced an excellent near-post finish for his first international goal, securing a significant victory for Capello and England. Switzerland were supposed to be England's strongest rivals in Group G, and beating them away is a huge step towards finishing first in the group and receiving an automatic place in the finals. The central defensive pairing of Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka acquitted themselves well, and the wide players put on a fine attacking display, demonstrating how to pull a compact defence apart and rip through the gaps. England probably deserved to win by more, but they'll be more than happy with a 3-1 victory. Even Wayne Rooney.

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