- England beats Wales 2-1 in Lens
- Gareth Bale free-kick put Wales ahead
- Jamie Vardy equalized for England
- Daniel Sturridge scored late winner
(CNN)When it comes to England's football team, nothing is ever simple.
Trailing to a Gareth Bale strike at the break and contemplating defeat by a Wales team playing in its first major tournament for 58 years -- the Euro 2016 finals -- there was an all-too familiar feeling about the day.
The headlines were already being written -- Roy Hodgson, the England manager, was about to be cast as a public enemy and Wales was set for the most famous victory in its history.
And yet, England, which had labored for so long, somehow managed to do something it had never done before -- win a game at a major tournament after being behind at halftime.
Jamie Vardy, a second-half substitute, netted an equalizer 10 minutes after the interval before fellow striker Daniel Sturridge fired home a dramatic winner deep into stoppage time.
It was harsh on a Wales side which had defended bravely for the majority of the contest, with England having dominated the contest both before and after Bale's long-range effort.
But just as it appeared that England had run out of ideas, Sturridge bundled his way into the penalty area before lashing the ball home at the near post to win the Group B clash.
"It's a great feeling," Sturridge told UK match broadcaster the BBC. "Unbelievable. I am grateful to the gaffer for the opportunity and God for allowing me to score. It is a brilliant feeling.
"It is only one more game in the group, so no one wants to get too excited but the atmosphere is unbelievable and the togetherness between the two countries here is unbelievable.
"It is great to help the boys win the game, my brother and my cousin have traveled here to the game and it is great for them to experience this."
This was the 102nd time the two countries had met, but few games have been as big as this. Wales has improved immeasurably over the past few years, with Bale's undoubted talent added to by the likes of Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey, Liverpool's Joe Allen and the team captain, Ashley Williams of Swansea.
Buoyed by a 2-1 victory in its opening game against Slovakia, the message coming from the Welsh camp all week has been on of unity and confidence.
All the pre-match talk centered on Bale's claims that Wales had "a lot more passion and pride" than England -- a remark which the old enemy took exception to.
Ahead of the game, Bale reiterated his point by telling reporters, " I feel we are the most passionate country and it is not to disrespect, saying that any other country does not have pride and passion.
"They obviously do. But in my opinion we have the next level and the fans, players and nation show it. We play for the shirt and dragon. We give everything we've got."
Hodgson labeled Bale's passion jibe as "disrespectful." Perhaps he was feeling the pressure.
England, which went out of the World Cup at the group stage two years ago after failing to win a game, has spent much of the past week pondering what might have been after being held by Russia in its opening game.
Leading by a single goal going into stoppage time, it failed to close the game out and Russia netted a late equalizer.
That 1-1 draw left a sour taste in the mouth for Hodgson, whose team had dominated its opponent for the majority of the contest.
If there had not been enough pressure on England heading into this tie, then that result and the crowd trouble which occurred afterward only exacerbated it.
Wales, which last beat England in 1984, arrived as group leader after its 2-1 win over Slovakia -- a game in which Real Madrid star Bale inspired once more.
While the world's most expensive player has impressed, England's priciest talent, Raheem Sterling, has not been so fortunate.
Widely criticized for his performance against Russia, the $76 million Manchester City player wasted the first chance of this contest after just seven minutes.
Adam Lallana escaped down the right and produced the perfect cross for Sterling but he contrived to fire wide of the post when he appeared set to score.
Played at ferocious tempo with tackles flying in both teams, it was a case of quality taking a backseat in the opening period.
Gary Cahill's header from a Wayne Rooney free-kick warmed the fingertips of Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey as England threatened once again.
England continued to look the more likely to break the deadlock and appealed for a penalty when Ben Davies appeared to handle Harry Kane's header inside the area.
Referee Felix Brych waved play on as England's players remonstrated with the German official.
Wales, which had conceded in each of its past five games, was struggling to cope with England's high pressing and ability to cause problems from wide areas.
Chris Smalling headed a Rooney corner just wide as England flexed its muscles.
Wales had not managed to register a shot on goal when it was awarded a free-kick with three minutes of the first half remaining.
Backs to the wall and forced to defend for long periods, it had spent the majority of the game chasing and closing opponents.
But Rooney's foul on Hal Robson-Kanu some 35 yards from goal allowed Bale the only opportunity he needed.
The forward, who scored a free-kick in the win over Slovakia, unleashed another rasping effort which England goalkeeper Joe Hart could only parry into his own net.
It was a horrible error by Hart, usually so dependable in the English goal -- not that the Welsh cared. Bale led the celebrations as joy and disbelief reigned in the stands with thousands dressed in red jumping for joy.
England, stunned by conceding, made changes at the interval with the hapless Sterling and ineffective Kane replaced by Vardy and Sturridge.
The move certainly gave England a lift and Rooney sent a curling effort towards goal which was turned away by Hennessey at full stretch.
The pressure was beginning to tell, and within 10 minutes of the restart Vardy finally made the breakthrough.
Sturridge found space on the left and when the ball came off the head of Williams, Vardy fired home from close range to continue the goalscoring run that helped his club Leicester to the Premier League title.
End to end
That breathed new life into an England team which had played at a far higher tempo since the introduction of the substitutes.
Such was its dominance that Hodgson, normally so cautious and conservative in his approach, brought on a third striker in 18-year-old Marcus Rashford.
The Manchester United teenager, the youngest to play at a European Championship finals for England, added yet more pace to an attack which was camped permanently in the Wales half.
His pace and trickery provided another outlet for England, but it was Sturridge who made the telling contribution -- playing a one-two with Dele Alli before somehow forcing a low shot past Hennessey.
Quite how the ball managed to find the back of the net is anyone's clue but the Liverpool forward -- an injury doubt ahead of the tournament -- was already wheeling away in celebration before Wales had time to react.
The relief was evident as the England fans celebrated what was surely the winning goal with their players .
There was still time for Wales to come close to an equalizer as Bale headed just wide, but there was to be no fairytale for Wales.
England, which faces Slovakia in its final game on Monday, leads the group with four points and should now go on to qualify for the last-16 knockout phase.
Wales, which faces Russia, should still make the next stage too but this defeat will hurt for some time yet. For England, games like these are just par for the course.