In front of a very generous crowd of around seventy three thousand people at Wembley on Friday evening, England set out on the long and demanding road to international rehabilitation with a 4-0 win over a decent Bulgarian side.
There was a familiar feel to this England team with only Hart, Walcott, Dawson and Jagielka coming in to the fold following the Three Lions humiliation at the hands of Germany; yet the stuttering, nervous looking team that we saw in South Africa was replaced with a much more assured and confident England here.
Joe Hart in goal, winning his first competitive cap looks every inch an international goalkeeper; his fine domestic form of last season for Birmingham City and latterly for Manchester City has translated perfectly to the international scene. Indeed, his point blank save on 60 minutes provided the catalyst for Jermaine Defoe’s second, game clinching goal. Hart’s early season form and calm, reassuring performance between the posts for the national team will come as a huge boost to Coach Capello as he tries to rebuild his international reputation.
With the exception of a quarter of an hour spell after half time England were completely at ease against a Bulgarian side greatly lacking the guile and quality of the retired Dimitar Berbatov. The Manchester United man would surely have given the rookie pairing of Michael Dawson and Phil Jagielka a much sterner test than they were provided with on the night by Messers Bojinov and Popov. That said, Jagielka was a soothing influence on an England defence lacking its two most recognisable defenders in Terry and Ferdinand. The Dawson/Jagielka axis appears to be a firm base upon which future English success could be built; injuries aside of course. On 56 minutes Dawson was stretchered from the field of play after sustaining a very nasty looking knee injury, his replacement, Gary Cahill acquitted himself nicely and will be a front runner to replace the unlucky Dawson when England take to the field in their mid week qualifier in Basel, Switzerland.
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The burgeoning Defoe/Rooney partnership will also have cheered Capello’s mood. The mercurial Rooney, whist occasionally earning the ire of the Wembley crowd also had a hand in three of the four England goals and but for a fine save by Bulgarian keeper Mihaylov he would have added to his own international tally.
Defoe also limped from the field following his hat trick goal but he should be fit in time for England’s next crucial qualifier, the blossoming partnership of Defoe and Rooney is starting to bear fruit and as such it is vital that they be given as much playing time together as possible.
Manchester City’s Adam Johnson also chipped in with his first international goal following his introduction at the hands of Theo Walcott, the Arsenal man replaced after 74 minutes in which he, at times, flattered to deceive. Frequently, in a scene all too familiar to Arsenal fans, Walcott’s pace and trickery took him into promising situations in which the final ball was lacking. However, patience must be with the watch word for Capello, his teammates and England supporters; Walcott is by no means the finished article and is still growing as a player. At the age of twenty one he has plenty of time in which to fulfil his massive potential.
James Milner, who has been the focal point of much speculation and conjecture over the summer, was busy and influential. The midfielder turned in the sort of performance that earned his big money move from Aston Villa to Manchester City in the first place, breaking intelligently from midfield, he was bright and keen to impress. He will have gone a long way to cementing a place in this new England side.
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All told these were three important and promising points for England, while the performance was by no means a vintage one; the result was most important thing. One would suspect that Capello will have found the individual efforts of the likes of Hart, Milner, Defoe and Rooney to be the most promising signs of all as he builds a team that can at least compete at the European Championships of 2012.