Rooney off but England do just enough to qualify


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The Independent Online

England qualified for next summer's European Championships last night, but their celebrations were muted both by the increasing poverty of their performance and the dismissal of Wayne Rooney 24 hours after his father had been arrested for an alleged betting scam revolving around a red card.

Cruising after half an hour, during which time goals from Ashley Young and Darren Bent had established a 2-0 lead, England spent most of the second period hanging on after conceding with the last kick of the first half.

The most significant kick of the night, however, proved to be the one aimed by Rooney at the calf of Miodrag Dzudovic after 75 minutes which deserved the straight red card Wolfgang Stark showed. The Manchester United striker's second red card in an England shirt (matching David Beckham's unwanted record) means he will miss England's opening game in the tournament and, depending on Uefa's disciplinary panel, possibly more.

England should have put the game to bed in a first half they dominated without playing especially well. Phil Jones, making his debut at right-back, almost scored in the second minute with a cross-shot that goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic nearly scooped into his own net. Montenegro only held out for another nine minutes. Rooney, given a floating role behind Bent, turned into space and fed Theo Walcott on the right. He delivered the perfect cross and Young, peeling away at the back post, headed in unmarked.

England thereafter dominated possession with Montenegro standing off them. A second goal duly followed after 30 minutes. England poached possession in midfield, Rooney released Young in the inside-left channel, and he unselfishly crossed for Bent to tap in for his fourth goal in five internationals.

England were so dominant they appeared to unconsciously relax and, to Fabio Capello's annoyance, became sloppy. That cost them when, in first-half injury time, Fatos Beqiraj was allowed to cross from the right and Elsad Zverotic volleyed in.

The goal acted on the Montenegrin crowd and players like one of the lightening bolts that had been playing in the distance and the second half was a struggle for England. An increasingly desperate defence finally cracked in the 93rd minute when Andrija Delibasic rose at the far post to head in a cross from Dzudovic.