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England subs pay off
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 06 - 2016

A pair of attacking halftime substitutions came up big for England.

Trailing by a goal, the English rallied to beat British rival Wales 2-1 Thursday with second-half strikes from Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, who both entered at halftime with their team's future in the tournament looking bleak.

Sturridge's goal came in the first minute of injury time, ensuring England moved to the top of Group B at the European Championship with four points.

Gareth Bale scored his second long-range free kick of the tournament to put Wales ahead in the 42nd minute, forcing England coach Roy Hodgson into an aggressive halftime change that belied his reputation as a defensive-minded manager.

Vardy scored the equalizer with his third touch of the ball, pouncing on a misdirected defensive clearance in the 56th minute. Sturridge then muscled his way into the box to score the winner with time running out.

"The manager made some positive changes," said captain Wayne Rooney, who was one of four England strikers on the field when Sturridge scored. "And it paid off for us."

Hodgson's choice and timing of substitutions was criticized against Russia Saturday — England conceded a late goal to draw 1-1 — but he got it right at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, with Vardy and Sturridge making the desired impact.

England's celebrations were manic at the corner flag, with goalkeeper Joe Hart racing the length of the field to join in.

From looking in a weak position in Group B, the English now find themselves in first place and cannot finish lower than third, likely earning a spot in the last 16. Wales has three points.

"Congrats to Roy," Wales coach Chris Coleman said. "He made some good substitutions and we knew they would push us back ... We are gutted but we have to move on."

Hart was the last to reach England's mass of celebrating players, and he likely breathed a sigh of relief because he had been at fault for Bale's latest goal from a free kick.

Bale had led the sniping and jibes coming from the Welsh camp in the build-up to the all-British match, calling England the "enemy" and saying Wales had more passion than its neighbor.

He backed up all his straight-talking with another set-piece goal — but again there were question marks over the goalkeeper trying to save it.

Against Slovakia Saturday, Matus Kozacik was deceived by the flight of Bale's strike. Hart's movement was also disappointing. He appeared to dive to his left too late, and only pushed the ball into the corner of the net.

Bale had been kept quiet until his goal, with Raheem Sterling and Gary Cahill squandering close-range chances for England. By the end of the first half, Sterling was being jeered by England fans for his sloppy play and was substituted at halftime along with the equally ineffective Harry Kane.

Their replacements made the difference and England can look to Monday's match against Slovakia with renewed optimism, when Vardy could start. He was Leicester's top scorer in the team's surprising Premier League title triumph and has now scored in four of his last five England appearances.

"We thought a lot about what the starting 11 should be but I didn't want to start breaking eggs with a big stick," Hodgson said. "I thought I would keep one or two up my sleeve."

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