Wayne Rooney, the spearhead of Fabio Capello's rejuvenated England went nearly half way to overhauling Sir Bobby Charlton as the nation's all-time top international goalscorer last night as his two goals against sorry Andorra took the side to within a whisker of the World Cup finals.
A win against Croatia at Wembley in September may send England to South Africa, 22 months after elimination from Euro 2008 against the same opposition at the same venue, and Rooney – the first England striker since Gary Lineker 18 years ago to score 10 England goals in a season – spoke last night of the hunger that defeat has engendered in the ranks.
"The disappointment of not getting to the Euros is still very much in the players' minds," Rooney said after the 6-0 win. "And the manager and his coaching staff coming in have been a big plus. We're playing more as a team now and we're winning games. That's why we're doing so well. Not qualifying motivated me and, speaking to other players, I'm sure it's the same for them." Belarus have five games left but if they fail to beat Croatia in August, England will only need a win against Slaven Bilic's side to qualify.
Rooney's fourth-minute header and exquisite 39th-minute right-foot volley took him to 24 international goals, 25 short of Sir Bobby's total, which – at the age of 23 – he believes he has time to overhaul. "I hope [I can beat the target]," he said. "Obviously, it would be a great achievement, but I've always said I never based my game just on scoring goals. It's very much about getting on the ball and being involved. And, hopefully, I'm doing that."
Rooney's finishing was just reward for the impressive crowd of 57,897 who made Wembley two-thirds full despite the 48-hour Tube strike which left thousands of fans stranded – and seeking refunds that the FA have agreed to make – and caused gridlock outside Wembley hours after the final whistle last night. "I think when someone decides to strike he has to create problems for someone," said England manager Fabio Capello, though a partial Tube service was in operation which did alleviate the problems slightly.
It was, Capello agreed, a near perfect performance from England. "Always, when you play against a team that aren't strong, you have to start well, quickly, you have to press and win back the ball," Capello said. "We did this." It was a far different England display than the insipid performance which saw them take 49 minutes to score against Andorra in Barcelona in September, a fixture recalled by Capello last night. "After that [game] – step by step – we moved on and improved, creating a group with a different style on the pitch. After every game, we've proved this," said the manager after England's continued their best competitive start to a tournament, with seven wins out of seven now.
Particularly pleasing for Capello was the performance of the Portsmouth right-back Glen Johnson, whose assists for four of the England goals underlined his own potential for South Africa. "I think the confidence is very important," he said. "It's important for him to play like that. He's improved a lot, really." Capello also indicated that David Beckham, highly influential in a central midfield role on his 100th start for England, would be part of his plans for South Africa – potentially the player's fourth World Cup. Capello was diplomatic about Arsène Wenger's frustrations with Theo Walcott's decision to play the European Under-21 Championships. "I think he needs to play to recover his best form. If Theo is happy, I can understand why he's going. But I understand, also, Arsène," Capello said.
Rooney's early strike was added to by Frank Lampard who stroked home after Walcott laid back on 29 minutes. The last three goals came within eight second-half minutes: Johnson twisted back to supply Jermain Defoe, who also pounced after a Beckham free-kick was fumbled and Peter Crouch wrapped things up on 81 minutes after a mazy run from Defoe.
Beckham said: "The supporters deserved those goals tonight. There's a professional attitude and a great atmosphere about the place at the moment."Reuse content