England completed a remarkable late comeback in Lens to snatch a dramatic 2-1 victory over rivals Wales at the Stade Felix Bollaert-Delelis at EURO 2016, leaving both sides capable of finishing in the top two of Group B come Monday night.
Goals from substitutes Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge helped the Three Lions prevail victorious in the first time in a major tournament having trailed at half-time, after another spectacular free-kick from Gareth Bale gave the Dragons a slender lead at the interval.
England top Group B on four points following their opening draw with Russia, whilst Wales occupy second spot after their opening win over Slovakia – leaving both home nations in good stead to qualify for the tournament’s knockout stages.
Despite frustratingly being pinned back to a 1-1 draw against Russia last Saturday, Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson opted to name the same starting eleven on Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile the Dragons manager Chris Coleman made three changes to the Welsh side that defeated Slovakia 2-1 at the weekend; with Wayne Hennessey recovering from a back spasm to deputise in goal, whilst Joe Ledley and Hal Robson-Kanu earned starting roles.
With the adrenaline pumping ahead of the ‘Battle of the British’ in Lens, the game started at a pulsating pace, with both sets of players soaking in the occasion and electric atmosphere.
But it wasn’t long until the game’s first real goalscoring opportunity was carved out as Adam Lallana rapidly ascended down the right-flank before whipping in a dangerous low cross, only for Raheem Sterling to blaze over from close-range.
Despite England boasting possession, the Three Lions couldn’t claw through the Welsh defence, as Gary Cahill was the next player to set his sights at goal on 26 minutes – but his header from Wayne Rooney’s free-kick was too tame for goalkeeper Hennessey.
Then shortly after the half-hour mark; Hodgson’s side were convinced they should have been awarded a penalty after the ball hit Ben Davies’ arm, but it was completely unintentional from the Tottenham full-back.
Cahill’s centre-half partner Chris Smalling was then the next to trouble the Welsh defence from another set piece, but he nodded Rooney’s corner narrowly wide of the far post as the Three Lions continued to dominate inside the Stade Felix Bollaert-Deleis.
However; arguably, against the run of play, the Dragons roared back to break the deadlock with their very first serious goalscoring chance – and it fell to you know who…
Rooney was adjudged to have brought down Robson-Kanu from 35 yards out, gifting Real Madrid superstar Bale a glimpse of goal, although it was still a long way out from goal.
Nevertheless; if there was one man that could strike the target from there, it would be Bale. And he did.
The Welsh wizard unleashed a powerful shot that swerved and dipped towards Joe Hart’s goal, and it eventually escaped the palms of the Manchester City shot-stopper, despite the ball being fairly central to the goal.
The half-time whistle blew as England failed to make all of their possession count in Lens, whilst Wales bided patiently before striking a devastating blow shortly before the interval.
So much so, Three Lions manager Hodgson opted to make a double offensive change at the break, hauling Kane and Sterling off as forwards Vardy and Sturridge were introduced to the match.
And just 11 minutes into the second-half, both of those substitutions paid dividends.
After Wales had failed to clear the ball; it dropped to Sturridge on the left-flank, who chipped in another delivery towards the danger area, before it fell invitingly for Premier League title-winner Vardy who prodded the ball home.
There was a suspicion of offside, but replays showed that Dragons skipper Ashley Williams was the last man to touch the ball before Vardy’s decisive strike – just his third touch after coming on.
Heading into the final ten minutes of play; Wales substitute Jonny Williams saw an opening and drove at the English defence, but unfortunately for him, his mazy run concluded with a shot that sailed way over the crossbar.
But it was England; once again, who were constantly knocking on the Welsh door and looked the more likely nation to snatch a late winner, particularly with full-back Kyle Walker driving down the right-flank time and time again.
The Tottenham defender had a pop at goal himself with time ticking away, but club teammate Davies did well to head it behind for a corner, which Cahill headed over.
Three added minutes were awarded heading into injury-time, which was just enough time for Hodgson’s second England substitute to reward him with a monumental winner in the ‘Battle of Britain’.
Liverpool ace Sturridge picked up the ball outside the 18-yard area; played a through ball to a teammate, before it cannoned back perfectly to the forward, who squeezed his shot past Hennessey at his near post to send the Three Lions army behind the goal into raptures.
England have now won the last five meetings against Wales, but this was the first clash between the two countries in a major tournament finals.
The Three Lions also scored more than one goal at a fixture in a major tournament for only the second time in their last 15 attempts.
Man of the Match: Kyle Walker (England)
Pre-tournament, many England fans were contemplating over whether Walker or Nathaniel Clyne was the Three Lions’ first-choice right-back ahead of EURO 2016.
But after the two opening Group B fixtures, it is safe to say the 26-year-old has fully deserved his starting role in this England side, with the Tottenham full-back rewarding boss Hodgson with back-to-back outstanding performances.
Walker was a constant menace down the right-flank for the eventual victors, forever charging at Spurs teammate Davies on the wing before sending in several dangerous deliveries into the Dragons’ lair.
With Wales happy to settle for a point in Lens, the pacey right-back took full advantage and endlessly ascended into the final third – winning multiple set pieces and corners for his country – which eventually proved decisive in England recording their first win of this summer’s finals.
What’s Next: Group B leaders England take on third-placed Slovakia on Monday night, knowing a win or draw will guarantee themselves a spot in the last-16 of the tournament. Meanwhile Wales go head-to-head with rock-bottom Russia on the same evening.