Defoe's dazzling hat-trick heralds a fresh start for England

England 4 Bulgaria 0

Fabio Capello would like to consign the World Cup finals to history but not even he can quite convince himself to start believing in this England team again.

Only when his side's third goal went in did Capello permit himself a smile and a brief round of applause before that stony old face set implacably against the world once more.

Here we go again. The first step to Euro 2012 qualification ended in a Wembley drubbing and a home crowd who celebrated as if nothing of any note had happened during June at the southern end of the African continent. But the World Cup finals will not be expunged that easily even when, in an edgy post-match press conference, Capello declared that "the past is the past".

Not quite yet, Fabio. It is a fair request that eventually not every question will lead back to the debacle of England's performance at the World Cup finals in South Africa but for now the memory is still raw. A hat-trick for Jermain Defoe, a sparkling performance from Wayne Rooney – this was a welcome first Friday night qualifier at Wembley. But no sensible person thinks this team are anywhere near turning the corner yet.

These games are not simple, especially not against a neat Bulgaria team ranked 43rd in the world who were unafraid to kick and trip when they judged it appropriate. Defoe will be the man for whom this game is remembered but Joe Hart was not too far behind. With England just one goal up he made one stupendous save on the hour that arguably changed the game. Within a minute England counter-attacked and scored their second.

Equally important was when, in the first half, Hart saved Glen Johnson's miscued clearance that was on target and going in. When he picked himself off the turf, the Manchester City goalkeeper did not turn to his right-back and admonish him. Neither did he posture for the camera. Instead he turned to Johnson and laughed, a reaction which suggests, if nothing else, a sense of perspective.

This was England's 11th consecutive victory at Wembley, a record that would be a lot more impressive were it not for the episode in South Africa. There was a debut goal for Adam Johnson which gave the evening a beginning-of-a-new-era feel although really – Hart aside – this was about the old guard again. Steven Gerrard was another outstanding performer.

That is not to say that Capello is without concerns for the trip to Basle to face Switzerland on Tuesday. Michael Dawson will almost certainly miss that game having suffered a bad twist to his right knee that means, along with Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ledley King, Capello is now without his four first choice centre-backs. Matthew Upson was not even on the substitutes' bench last night. Capello says that he is fit.

The England manager was in a confrontational mood afterwards. He knows that on the "God or monster" scale, the needle is still wavering dangerously close to "monster". That makes him defensive in a way that many of his predecessors became. "The most important thing is to win because when you lose, you know what happens," he said. "You [the press] write enough when I lose." If he keeps this up for the next two years we could be in for a taxing qualification campaign.

Defoe scored his first goal three minutes into the Euro 2012 campaign. Rooney, who played a major role in all four goals, picked out Ashley Cole's run down the left wing. Having had his shot blocked the first time, Cole squared to Defoe who reacted first and scored from close range.

Rooney, Capello would later disclose, had been told to position himself in front of the central two midfielders –Gareth Barry and Gerrard on this occasion – in order to get on the ball as much as possible. "We want him to touch the ball a lot," Capello said. "The quality of Rooney is very high." The deeper position accounted for Rooney's influence on the game and also perhaps why he did not score himself.

When Rooney dropped deep, England's 4-4-2 system became more like 4-4-1-1. It benefited from one of Gerrard's best performances in the first half. Fouled early on by the Bulgarian centre-back Stanislav Angelov, the England captain took control. He dropped in front of his own back four to pick the ball up and dictate much of the first half.

Even so, Bulgaria were hard to break down and Capello's team looked very static on occasions. They lost their way in the middle of the first half and allowed Bulgaria back into the game. There is always a tipping point against international teams of their stature when, especially away from home, they just give up the ghost. It was not until England's third goal with six minutes left that they reached that moment. When Hart saved from Angelov on the hour, the game was still in the balance.

Hart attributed his save to a technique learned from his former Manchester City team-mate Kasper Schmeichel – and by extension surely Kasper's famous father Peter – in which the goalkeeper makes himself as big as possible. From that save, Barry picked up the loose ball and from Gerrard to Rooney the ball found its way to Defoe who put his shot through the legs of the goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov.

Before then Capello had lost Dawson to what looked like a bad fall and twist that put unnatural pressure on his right knee. In his place came Gary Cahill from Bolton Wanderers for his senior England debut. On for Walcott, Adam Johnson struck his first England goal inside Mihaylov's near post after Defoe and then Rooney had worked the ball out to the right.

It was Rooney again, surging forward who played in Defoe for his third goal. Had this gone badly Capello would have been going to Switzerland tomorrow with potentially one game to save his job. There is more breathing space now although, Capello will surely know, not that much more.

England 4-4-2: Hart (Manchester City); G Johnson (Liverpool), Jagielka (Everton), Dawson (Tottenham), A Cole (Chelsea); Walcott (Arsenal), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Manchester City), Milner (Manchester City); Rooney (Manchester United), Defoe Tottenham). Substitutes used: Cahill (Bolton) for Dawson, 56; A Johnson (Manchester City) for Walcott, 74, Young (Aston Villa) for Defoe, 87.

Bulgaria 4-4-2: Mihaylov (Twente); Manolev (PSV Eindhoven), Stoyanov (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Ivanov (Alania), Milanov (Vaslui); Yankov (Rostov), S Petrov (Aston Villa), Angelov (Steaua Bucharest), M Petrov (Bolton); Bojinov (Parma), Popov (Litex). Substitutes used: Rangelov (Borussia Dortmund) for Bojinov 63; Minev (Levski Sofia) for Manolev 65, Peev (Amkar) for Popov 79

Referee V Kassai (Hungary).

Man of the match Hart.

Attendance 73,246.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power