Lens (France), June 16 (IANS) Daniel Sturridge struck a last minute winner as England defeated a spirited Wales 2-1 in a Group B match to register their first victory at the Euro Cup football tournament here on Thursday.
Sturridge (90+2) scored the decisive goal in the final minute of the game. Earlier, Gareth Bale (42nd minute) had given minnows Wales the lead which was cancelled out by England striker Jamie Vardy (56th).
The result put England at the top of the group with four points from two matches. They are now virtually assured of a spot in the quarter-finals as even a draw in their final group match against Slovakia could see them through.
Wales are at the second spot with three points from two matches. They will meet bottom-placed Russia in their final group match.
England were widely expected to saunter to an easy win over their neighbours and bitter rivals, but Wales surprised the high-spirited English fans at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis here with a gritty performance.
They almost snatched what would have been a well-deserved point, holding their much fancied arch-rivals at bay for most of the game with a well-organised defence and fast counter-attacks.
Wales understandably employed a defensive formation with three central defenders and preferred to sit back and absorb the successive waves of England attacks. Their well-organised defence and tight man marking around the penalty area frustrated the much vaunted England forwardline for most of the game.
England were desperate for a win after being held to a 1-1 draw by gritty Russia in their campaign opener. England manager Roy Hodgson went for a similar formation to that game, packing the centre of the park with three central midfielders in Wayne Rooney, Eric Dier and the impressive Dele Alli.
Tottenham star Harry Kane was the lone centre-forward with Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling on the wings.
The best chance of the first half for England fell to Raheem Sterling when a fast counter-attack down the right flank saw Adam Lallana fire a superb pass for his former Liverpool teammate from the left edge of the six-yard box. But a diving Sterling could only baloon it over the bar.
Wales attacking hopes rested mainly on Gareth Bale anhd the star winger made his impact just before the break with a curling free-kick from 25 metres that nicked England goalkeeper Joe Hart’s fingertips on its way into the net.
Kane was visibly struggling against the tight knit Welsh defence and Hodgson chose to replace him at half-time with Jamie Vardy.
The Leicester City star had almost immediate impact. Daniel Sturridge’s speculative cross into the penalty area prompted a botched clearance from Welsh goalkeeper Owain Williams.
The deflection fell to Vardy who outfoxed his marker with some clever off the ball movement before firing home with a side volley.
The equaliser seemed to rejuvenate the England players and they continued to dominate possession with the action confined mostly in the Welsh half.
Perhaps with an eye on forcing a draw, Wales manager Chris Coleman decided to further strengthen the defence by replacing striker Chris Coleman with Jonathan Williams.
The strategy almost paid off as the England forwardline struggled to find an opening.
The brave Welsh were finally undone in the last minute by some superb combination work by Sturridge and Dele Alli.
With seconds to go for the final whistle, Sturridge picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty area and quickly exchanges a neat one-two with Alli before barging into the crowded box and squeezing his shot into the near post to break Welsh hearts.