For Kazakhstan, most far-flung of the many former members of the Soviet Union, football really is a game of two halves. In the first, they wear themselves out running, pressing and hoping to steal a lead; in the second, unless the opposition happens to be an Andorra or an Armenia – two of the few teams they have beaten in a competitive international – they subside. That was the way of it in the two previous World Cup qualifiers against England and Belarus, both of whom failed to score in the first half then ran in five each as the Kazaks tired.
Yesterday, their own coach having warned about a lack of fitness, the pattern was essentially the same, the difference being that England, blessed by good fortune, went to the break two goals in front when they might have been two behind.
That one of those goals was scored by Emile Heskey was equally pleasing, for that warm celebratory smile is seen much too rarely for club or country. A goal from the earlier effort that Alexandr Mokin pushed on to a post would have been worthier reward than the tap-in just before half-time.
They all count, although in Heskey's case they are still too infrequent. This was his second goal in successive internationals but only a seventh in 53 caps, and seventh all told in 44 games this season for Wigan, Aston Villa and England. Compare that to the man left out for him yesterday, Peter Crouch: 15 goals from 33 England games – more than half of which have been as a substitute – and 17 from 54 matches this season.
Yet it was still no surprise that Fabio Capello preferred Heskey as the principal attacker; he always has since studying the tapes of Steve McClaren's last few games in charge, in which Heskey returned triumphantly for the home wins over Russia and Israel, only to miss the critical defeats by the Russians and Croatia because of injury.
Crouch was not even in the squad at the beginning of this season and did not start for Capello until the most recent game, the 2-1 win at home to Ukraine. Indeed, the manager may have given away more than he intended when he said afterwards: "With Crouch we play long balls and there is not the movement of the other players." Movement up front was hardly the most effective aspect of England's game yesterday, even with Wayne Rooney starting closer to Heskey than expected as well as working back with his usual diligence.
It was his lovely turn and pass to Ashley Cole that brought the corner from which Gareth Barry, another infrequent scorer, nodded only his second at this level. England improved after Rooney moved further to the left, allowing Steven Gerrard more influence in his favoured central role, which he duly brought to bear, well supported by the disciplined Frank Lampard.
Perhaps Capello really is a lucky general, which after Sven Goran Eriksson and McClaren is another welcome change. He is a far more demanding leader, however, as his Mourinho-like tendency to make changes at half-time illustrated.
Although a bobbly pitch did not suit Theo Walcott's dribbling, God and Capello help those who help themselves. So it was an early shower for the young winger and a full 45 minutes for Shaun Wright-Phillips, another of the four players (David Beckham and Aaron Lennon being the others) chasing the most hotly contested position in this England team.
It worked in his favour that the home side ran out of steam as usual, and later the little Manchester City man was even able to demonstrate his versatility by moving to right-back in order to accommodate Beckham's customary late appearance as substitute.
From there Wright-Phillips sent Glen Johnson away to set up Rooney's goal, his seventh in six England games being followed by Lampard's 21st of the season, and 101st all told in five years – figures for Heskey to ponder and the rest of the world to admire as England move ever closer to the South African finals in a year's time.
Once the going gets tough there, however, they will not be allowed to escape punishment for the sort of casual error Johnson made in the first 20 seconds.
Nor will they meet opponents for whom a game effectively finishes with the half-time whistle.Reuse content