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Superb Welbeck strike allows Hodgson's England to build momentum

Danny Welbeck's first international goal was enough to secure a dull but disciplined England a 1-0 victory over Belgium at Wembley.

England picked up where they had left off against Norway by giving away very few chances to claim a second consecutive clean sheet as Welbeck showed Hodgson that the squad has striking options despite Wayne Rooney's two-game suspension.

The game featured a test of goalline technology though it was agreed beforehand that the referee's decision making would not be affected.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given a first start in an England shirt and it was the youngster's break down the left on six minutes that offered the England fans their first cause for optimism.

Two hurried finishes moments later betrayed the Arsenal man's eagerness to impress but he can be proud of his contribution on his debut after looking threatening with the ball at his feet.


Hodgson was handed another headache on 19 minutes when PSV Eindhoven's Dries Mertens crudely shoved Gary Cahill into Joe Hart causing the centre back to collide with the goalkeeper.

Hart's club mate Joleon Lescott replaced Cahill. Reports suggested this was a precautionary move though the defender will be sent for a scan on his jaw.

England struggled to get a foothold for much of the first half with Marouane Fellaini dominating the midfield area.

Belgium's fluid, interchanging system allowed them to dictate play, but a lack of a recognised centre forward combined with England's defensive solidity prevented the visitors from creating too many opportunities.

And yet it was England who took the lead on 35 minutes when excellent defensive work from Welbeck and Steven Gerrard allowed Ashley Young the opportunity to send his Manchester United colleague through one-on-one.

Welbeck showed remarkable composure to chip Simon Mignolet with his weaker left-foot - a finish of outstanding quality that gave the whole squad a much-needed lift after a wretched week in which senior players Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard have had to withdraw from the squad.


Wayne Rooney was introduced just after half-time. Though he will miss England's first two games of Euro 2012, Hodgson decided five weeks would represent too lengthy an absence from match conditions come his return against Ukraine.

Belgium retained the ball well in the second half but their slick distribution was almost completely blighted by resolute and dogged defending. 

During a generally stagnant passage of play around the hour mark, Jermain Defoe and Theo Walcott replaced Ashley Young and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as Belgium brought on Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku for Mertens.

Lukaku forced a good block from Ashley Cole on 75 minutes when he found space in the box, before right back Guillaume Gillet's superb strike crashed against Joe Hart's right post just two minutes later.

Cole was again called into action with a second block on 81 minutes as Fellaini struck a shot from the edge of the box.


England responded when Walcott broke into the box to release Defoe, who steadied himself before firing an effort against the post.

Jordan Henderson, Frank Lampard's replacement in England's Euro 2012 squad, was introduced for the last 10 minutes, as Gerrard handed the armband to Rooney before leaving the field.

Hodgson spoke of Rooney as a potential England captain of the future last week - backing up his words will have done the striker the power of good.

On 86 minutes, Spurs-bound Jan Vertonghen eluded England's defence from Eden Hazard's corner, but wasted his opportunity. Similarly, a minute later, Fellaini outjumped club mate Phil Jagielka - a 70th minute replacement for John Terry - only to head wide.

If the Norway game suggested that Hodgson was leaning towards Andy Carroll and 4-4-2, this match provided a counter-argument with an youthful attacking trio of Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck.

More importantly, both games confirm Hodgson's immediate impact in stabilising the side and making them hard to beat.

Sterner tests are in store further down the road for England, but two wins out of two is an excellent way for Hodgson to start his journey.

By Chris Smith

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