England beats Switzerland 2-0 in Euro qualifier
BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — Danny Welbeck scored twice to give England respite from criticism and a deserved 2-0 win at Switzerland in their European Championship qualifying opener on Monday.
Welbeck finished off Raheem Sterling’s pass on a fast counter-attack in the 58th minute and slotted in a right-footed shot deep into stoppage time.
England’s lead was preserved in the 70th by defender Gary Cahill sliding to block Josip Drmic’s shot after the Swiss substitute dribbled around goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Widely criticized for failure to win a game at the World Cup, England responded by winning its most difficult fixture in Euro 2016 qualifying against the No. 9 team in FIFA’s rankings. England is No. 20.
“I’ve never really lost faith,” England coach Roy Hodgson said. “I thought that the way we approached the game from the first minute was exactly what we wanted and we got our reward for once.”
Switzerland was praised for reaching the last 16 in Brazil, but new coach Vladimir Petkovic begins his tenure with the team’s first competitive home loss in four years. Then, England won 3-1 at the same St. Jakob-Park early in Euro 2012 qualifying.
“They lacked a bit of calm in their game,” Petkovic said of his players. “The first goal is a gift but we reacted well after that”.
Also in Group E on Monday, Lithuania won 2-0 at San Marino, and Estonia beat Slovenia 1-0.
The top two in each group qualify for Euro 2016 in France. The third-place team can qualify directly or advance to a playoff.
Hodgson was rewarded for selecting youth in a starting lineup with an average age under 25.
The 19-year-old Sterling took Rooney’s weighted pass in his speedy stride, advanced into the left side of the Swiss penalty area and slid the ball across goal for 23-year-old Welbeck to score.
Though it was Welbeck’s shin connecting with the ball, Arsenal’s new 16 million-pound ($25.8-million) signing from Manchester United was perfectly positioned to strike.
Rooney’s astute play launched the move when the captain seized on his Swiss counterpart Gokhan Inler’s misplaced pass deep in England’s half.
England merited its lead, though the flip side of the youthful verve which created several chances was a lack of composure in dangerous situations.
“I think we created a number of chances which maybe we could have done better with the final pass,” Welbeck said.
A three-on-one break was wasted in the 29th when Welbeck passed the ball beyond Sterling’s reach in front of goal.
Earlier, Sterling delivered a slow pass into the path of Rooney whose weak shot was easily gathered by goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
Sommer excelled diving low to his left in the 43rd to push away a powerful header from Phil Jones at a corner.
England goalkeeper Joe Hart stood out saving twice from center forward Haris Seferovic.
Hart stretched his right leg to block Seferovic’s shot in the 33rd minute after the forward collected a clever Admir Mehmedi pass. Two minutes before England took the lead, Hart stood tall to push away a rising Seferovic shot with his left hand.
Elsewhere, Lithuania extended San Marino’s 24-year run of never winning a competitive match with two first-half goals. Deivydas Matulevicius scored in the fifth and Arvydas Novikovas in the 36th.
Estonia got an 86th-minute winner from Ats Purje to beat a visiting Slovenia team it trails by 54 places in the FIFA rankings.
Slovenia was reduced to 10 men in the 78th when Dalibor Stevanovic was shown a second yellow card.
Estonia took advantage when Purje pounced on a fourth shot in a goalmouth scramble, after goalkeeper Samir Handanovic twice blocked shots.
Estonia hosts England in Tallinn on Oct. 12, three days after Hodgson’s team plays San Marino at Wembley Stadium.
“They are areas we can work (on) and we’ve got a couple of years to do so,” said Hodgson, who can expect less stress at work after this victory.