Maybe it is the hair. Whatever the reason Wayne Rooney's form is back. This was confirmed last night when, after going 360 days without an international goal, he scored twice in 25 minutes in Sofia to move England closer to a place at Euro 2012. Rooney's brace followed Gary Cahill's first for his country, enabling England to cruise to three points in the Vasil Levski Stadium.
Cahill was preferred to Phil Jones in England's defence but one of the Manchester United tyros started with Chris Smalling making what proved an uncertain debut for his country just three years after playing in the Kent League for Maidstone United. The most significant selection decision was, however, the omission of Frank Lampard, dropped for a competitive game for the first time under Capello.
Instead Scott Parker and Gareth Barry anchored the midfield behind a fluid four-man attack headed by Rooney. Both midfielders were to play influential roles. Barry provided the opening goal, picking out Cahill after a corner had been partially cleared to the Manchester City player. Cahill chested the ball down before scrambling a shot under Nikolay Mihaylov. He was the first Bolton Wanderers player to score for England since Nat Lofthouse in 1959.
Six minutes later Bulgaria threatened an equaliser through Cahill's club team-mate Martin Petrov, but he pulled his shot wide. It proved Bulgaria's last chance to gain a foothold in the game as, after 20 minutes, Rooney doubled England's advantage rising to head in Barry's corner. Rooney's last two international goals had come in September 2010, and September 2009, giving further credence to Michel Platini's view that England , because of club demands, are "lions in autumn, lambs in summer".
England were now able to sit back, draw pressure, and counter-attack. They did so to lethal effect in first-half injury-time, but Capello will have noted the break began with Parker throwing himself into a block as Martin Petrov shot from distance. Walcott subsequently broke before feeding Stuart Downing whose cross was tapped in by Rooney for his 28th international goal. This put him in England's top ten goalscorers, level ninth with the legendary Steve Bloomer who scored his goals a century ago.
The only scar on a successful night for England was the racist abuse of Ashley Cole and Walcott by home fans, a dozen years after Sol Campbell received similar treatment during an England match in the same city.
Bulgaria Sarmov (Bandalovski, h-t), Bozhilov (Genkov, 61), Marquinhos (Popov, 81).
England Milner (A Young, 62), Lampard (Barry, 80), A Johnson (Walcott, 83).
Bulgaria Sarmov, Milanov. England Parker.
Man of the match Rooney.
Referee F de Bleeckere (Belgium).Reuse content