BASEL, Switzerland (AFP) – Danny Welbeck scored twice as England launched their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign with an encouraging 2-0 win away to chief Group E rivals Switzerland in Basel on Monday.
England had been criticised for a lacklustre display in their 1-0 friendly victory over Norway last week, but with a new midfield diamond introduced by manager Roy Hodgson, they put on an improved showing at St Jakob-Park.
Welbeck was deputising for the injured Daniel Sturridge and the new Arsenal striker rose to the occasion, touching home a cross from Raheem Sterling in the 58th minute and then sealing victory in stoppage time.
“I thought the way we approached the game from the first minute was exactly what we wanted, and we got our reward,” Hodgson told ITV.
“We pressurised the ball well, but you need that first goal to get people to come out and attack you.
“From then I thought we looked dangerous and we had several chances to aggravate the scoreline before Danny Welbeck’s second.”
It was Switzerland’s first competitive home defeat since a 3-1 loss to England in October 2010 and meant that new coach Vladimir Petkovic began his tenure in losing fashion.
However, with the top two teams in the group guaranteed to qualify for the tournament in France, it is likely to prove a flesh wound for a side ranked ninth in the world after their run to the last 16 at the World Cup.
“We started the second half much better, with much more movement and speed, but we committed two major errors and conceded a goal,” said Petkovic.
“It’s a good lesson and we’ll try to make up for it in the next game.”
Facing the team he coached for almost four years, Hodgson used a diamond shape that saw Sterling line up behind Welbeck and Wayne Rooney, with Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph in midfield.
Delph was making his full debut and began brightly, but he was also booked after sliding in on Valon Behrami and Stephan Lichtsteiner in quick succession.
The system meant that England always seemed to have options in possession, and they began to carve out chances.
Rooney spurned three of them, failing to get a shot away after being picked out by Wilshere, scuffing an effort at Yann Sommer from Sterling’s pass, and heading over a centre from Leighton Baines.
England also failed to exploit a three-on-one situation in the 29th minute, with Welbeck bursting free down the right but failing to pick out either Sterling or Rooney with his pass.
England goalkeeper Joe Hart had to save with his legs from Haris Seferovic after Phil Jones gifted the ball to Xherdan Shaqiri, but it was only thanks to Switzerland goalkeeper Sommer that the score remained blank at the break.
After turning away a curling shot from Rooney, the Borussia Moenchengladbach shot-stopper produced an excellent save at the resulting corner, plunging to his left to palm away a firm downward header from Jones.
An open start to the second half saw chances exchanged at both ends.
Wilshere drilled wide for England and Behrami narrowly avoided turning Henderson’s cross into his own net, while Lichtsteiner shot over and Hart produced a fine one-handed save to thwart Seferovic.
But it was England who drew first blood with a neatly crafted goal reminiscent of Sturridge’s strike against Italy at the World Cup.
After breaking from midfield, Rooney found Sterling on the left and the Liverpool winger’s low centre was turned in by Welbeck.
Switzerland substitute Josip Drmic looked poised to bring Switzerland level after skipping around Hart with 20 minutes left, but Gary Cahill slid in to thwart him with a crucial goal-line block.
Jones was forced off with what seemed to be a hamstring injury, but after Hart caught a deflected Ricardo Rodriguez effort, substitute Rickie Lambert released Welbeck to beat Sommer for a second time with his left foot.