By Kimberley Swift
- Daniel Sturridge scores 92nd minute winner to give England dramatic injury time victory
- Jamie Vardy nets in international debut
- Gareth Bale’s 28-yard free kick goal not enough for Welsh win
LENS, FRANCE – Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge combined to give England a crucial 2-1 victory over Wales in a match that showed what substitutes are for.
Both strikers were brought on in the second half in a move hailed as blindingly obvious – even if only by pub experts.
Wales went ahead a minute before half time when Gareth Bale befuddled the keeper, for the second consecutive game, with a beautifully disguised curling free kick. Joe Hart should nevertheless have saved; having got both hands on the ball he could not redirect the shot.
Roy Hodgson came under fire from some quarters after failing to make any impactful changes against Russia on Saturday. Nevertheless, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane were once again on the starting line for the British battle.
Besides one gaping opportunity somehow missed by Sterling early on, however, neither had much to contribute. If this was the second chance for the two forwards to prove themselves, it seems perilously late to be leaving it.
It was no surprise when Hodgson handed Vardy his debut, and the Leicester City striker had his say barely 10 minutes into the second half.
Fortuitous it might have been, coming off an errantly-directed header from Wales captain Ashley Williams, but Vardy’s close-range poke into the net altered the whole atmosphere. England were brought back to life and the Welsh fans suddenly looked nervous again.
Hodgson’s men attacked ferociously in the final half hour. As always, there was a sense that the Three Lions could throw it at the last minute but this time England stole the last laugh.
It came in dramatic fashion, as Sturridge scuffed the ball past Wayne Hennessey at the near post in the final minute of extra time.
Bale may have delivered once again for his country but if there is one statistic from this match that might concern Chris Coleman it is the number of shots managed. His team engineered eight attempts on goal but only two of those were on target.
For England, questions were raised about the manager’s selection after the opener against Russia. Vardy and Sturridge seem to have answered those questions and must surely start against Slovakia on Monday. In the shadow of UEFA’s disqualification warning, the absence of any significant violence from supporters before, during or after the match were as much of a relief as the result.
Success would have confirmed the Red Dragons as Group B victors. Instead, England edge to the top of the group and need only a draw against Slovakia to guarantee a last 16 place. Meanwhile Wales can confirm their progression with a win over Russia.
Both matches take place on Monday 20th June at 8pm (BST).
Northern Ireland stun Ukraine for first Euros win
LYON, FRANCE – Gareth McAuley scored his country’s first European Championships goal as Northern Ireland powered to victory against Ukraine.
Michael O’Neill’s men matched Germany in inflicting a 2-0 defeat on Ukraine, sending assistant coach Andriy Shevchenko’s side to the bottom of Group C.
Victory against the defending champions will guarantee the men in green a place in the last 16.
After their opening defeat to Poland, Northern Ireland knew they had to play with a far more forceful attitude to have any chance. O’Neill made five changes to the starting lineup, with top scorer Kyle Lafferty forced to watch on from the sidelines as Conor Washington started in his place.
The reshuffled team’s intent was reflected in a positive first half and the breakthrough came shortly after the restart.
McAuley headed in from Oliver Norwood’s free kick before play was briefly halted as torrential rain turned to hailstones. The match intensified with the weather, Ukraine threatening a comeback late on as Northern Ireland clung to their slender lead.
Niall McGinn finally closed out the game in the sixth minute of injury time, slotting home a rebound to clinch an historic triumph for his country.
Northern Ireland face Germany on Tuesday 21st June at 5pm (BST).
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