England's 2022 World Cup winners, playing in the guise of Gareth Southgate's Under-21 side, gave the new manager a victory in his first match and their opening European Championship contest at Reading.
In front of Roy Hodgson, who had taken charge of the team for a 6-0 victory over a feeble Scotland last month, they proved too good for limited opposition, as England teams frequently do in qualifying ties. Both Hodgson and the FA chairman, Greg Dyke, would be concerned to note, however, that only two of the 18 players here started a Premier League game last weekend.
Under Southgate's predecessor, Stuart Pearce, last summer's shattering of great expectations was extreme even by the standards of English national teams; after a run of ten successive victories without conceding a goal going into the European finals, the Under-21s lost all three games in abject fashion. Five of that squad appeared tonight, of whom Wilfried Zaha, apart from one shocking headed miss, showed all the flair he had failed to produce in Israel.
Norwich's Nathan Redmond, one of the two Premier League starters - Southampton's James Ward-Prowse was the other - was equally bright on the other flank and Tom Carroll, loaned out from Tottenham to Queen's Park Rangers this week, again prompted the question of whether Spurs really needed to buy quite so many foreign midfielders.
The new coach had quickly been introduced to one of the main drawbacks of the job when the two most capped players, Connor Wickham and Jonjo Shelvey, both withdrew over the weekend with injuries. Sunderland's Wickham may yet join up for Monday's game against Finland. His absence permitted a debut for Saido Berahino, who had scored a hat-trick for West Bromwich Albion in the Capital One Cup against Newport last week and added a fine goal in the 14th minute of his debut tonight. Taking Carroll's pass, he veered to his right and hit a powerful shot high into the net.
The chances thereafter came at regular intervals and the only concern was that a second goal refused to. Moldova's wing-backs were given a torrid time by Zaha and Redmond and the goalkeeper, Alexei Koshelev, made half a dozen good saves, including two from headers by England's captain Andre Wisdom. Will Hughes had a shot from close-range cleared off the line and Berahino miskicked from even nearer. Jack Butland, in contrast, had little chance to shine.
“It's clear we needed a little bit more ruthlessness in front of goal,” Southgate said. “But I've got to be pleased.”
England (4-3-3): Butland (Stoke); Stones (Everton), Wisdom (Liverpool), Keane (Manchester Utd), Shaw (Southampton); Chalobah (Chelsea), Carroll (Tottenham), Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Redmond (Norwich), Berahino (West Bromwich), Zaha (Manchester Utd). Substitutes Hughes (Derby) for Ward-Prowse, 66. Sammy Ameobi (Newcastle) for Redmond, 75. Harry Kane (Tottenham) for Berahino, 86.
Moldova (3-4-2-1): Koshelev; Prodan, Focsa, Bogdan; Mirza, Zasavitchi, Anton, Jardan; Rata, Carp; Dima. Substitutes Milinceanu for Carp, 68. Patic for Dima, 89.