England got their EURO 2012 qualifying campaign off to a great start as they beat Bulgaria 4-0 at Wembley.
Three goals from Jermain Defoe and Adam Johnson’s first goal for his country were enough to see Fabio Capello’s side get three points and go top of group G.
Wayne Rooney put in a fine performance as England began to put the World Cup behind them.
England fans were calling for change as Capello’s side looked to forget the dismal World Cup, but the Italian decided to stick with the 4-4-2 formation that has so-often been criticised. With John Terry and Rio Ferdinand both out Capello was forced to start with a completely different centre-back pairing, with Michael Dawson and Phil Jagielka getting the nod ahead of out-of-form Matthew Upson. Theo Walcott started on the right-wing while Milner played on the opposite side, with Steven Gerrard playing in his favoured position in front of Gareth Barry in the centre. Rooney and Defoe started up front together as the Manchester United forward looked to end his goal drought for England and the Tottenham forward continued to play despite delaying surgery on his groin.
And it was Defoe who opened the scoring for a hungry-looking England. A match-fit Rooney played a clever ball over the Bulgarian defence and, after Ashley Cole latched on to the pass and saw his shot stopped by ‘keeper Nikolay Mihaylov, Defoe was gifted with the ball two yards from goal. The former West Ham striker fired into the net, giving the Wembley crowd something to cheer about within three minutes.
Walcott, who didn’t go to South Africa for the World Cup, has had a brilliant start to the season with Arsenal and the winger looked sharp from the off, skipping past various defenders and shooting wide within the first twenty minutes. The shot was poor but the intent to attack and cause problems was clearly there.
The right-back position for England seems to be a problem at the minute with Johnson struggling for form with club Liverpool and performing poorly at the World Cup, and the defender nearly levelled the scores for Bulgaria after a relatively simple cross was diverted towards goal by Johnson, only for new England number one Joe Hart to come to Johnson’s rescue, getting down well to save. The Manchester City goalkeeper has now established himself as City and England first choice ‘keeper, and Hart looked comfortable and calm throughout.
England were full of desire against Bulgaria, something that was lacking in South Africa, and James Milner and Walcott went close to doubling England’s lead, but the teams were level at half-time after a reasonable first half, although more goals were needed if Capello were to silence his critics.
In the second half, England came out with even more flair than the first, whilst also looking to be more positive going forward. A Rooney chip nearly beat a backtracking Mihaylov from twenty-five yards, while, at the other end, a rare opportunity for Bulgaria had presented itself after poor defending from Johnson let forward Ivelin Popov get a strike in on goal. The shot, though, flew wide of Hart’s left-hand post.
Dawson and Jagielka were both brilliant at centre-back, defending calmly and efficiently throughout. Disaster struck, though, for Dawson after the fifty minute mark, when a hefty challenge on the Tottenham defender resulted in Dawson being stretchered off with what looked to be a serious knee injury. Bolton defender Gary Cahill was brought on to make his first appearance for England, and again the inexperienced defender looked assured and comfortable at the heart of England’s defence.
That defence did look very good compared to past matches, although Johnson did not look comfortable at all when defending. Even when going forward, which is said to be the best part of his game, the Liverpool right-back looked slow and off the pace.
England did look comfortable in their lead, but England fans were certainly looking for another goal as the road to respite from the World Cup continues. Another great pass from Rooney, who seems to be getting his dominating style of play back after some poor form recently, found Defoe inside the area who fired a shot through the ‘keeper’s legs. A second for Defoe and a second for England, but England could still give more.
Although Walcott struggled to really get a grasp of the game against the Bulgarians, the Arsenal starlet should not be judged on this game alone. Walcott needs time and an extended run in the team if England are to get the best out of him. His speed simply terrified the Bulgarian defence at Wembley but, again, his final ball was not always perfect. Manchester City winger Johnson was brought on for Walcott, meaning that the midfield of England was heavily influenced by the blue side of Manchester.
It was a player from City’s rivals, though, who was running the show. Although Rooney had limited efforts on goal, the forward was dropping off Defoe, allowing him to run in behind defenders and create more space for Milner, Johnson and Gerrard to run in to. And it was Rooney who created the third goal, playing a simple ball out to Johnson on the right allowing the winger to cut inside of his opposing defender and fire in to score his first goal for England.
The game was wrapped up with five minutes to go, with Defoe striking once again after Rooney had stormed forward and played a clever ball through the defence of Bulgaria. There was a slight worry for Defoe after the player limped away as he went to celebrate, but Defoe said post-match that he would be fit for next week’s test of Switzerland.