Wayne Rooney said last night that he had a point to prove with England as he scored his first goals for the national team in almost a year in an emphatic 3-0 victory over Bulgaria that pushed Fabio Capello's team closer to qualification for Euro 2012.
England's victory, coupled with the defeat of their nearest rivals Montengero, who lost 2-1 to Wales in Cardiff last night, puts Capello's team in control of qualification from Group G which they lead by three points with two games to play.
Rooney said: "It felt good. It was a good performance from the whole team and we fully deserved three points. I'm enjoying my football, I've got a hunger and I want to prove myself again and hopefully I'm doing it. With Wales winning as well, it puts us in a great position. If we can win on Tuesday [against Wales] then I'm sure we will qualify."
The night was marred by racial abuse directed at Ashley Young and Theo Walcott from Bulgaria fans who were also photographed making Nazi salutes. The Football Association later confirmed that it had reported the racist chanting to Uefa delegates and the Bulgaria Football Union. The atmosphere at the stadium became even more tense towards the end of the match with a flare exploding in the area behind Joe Hart's goal.
Later the Bulgaria coach Lothar Matthäus, the German 1990 World Cup-winning captain, took it upon himself to apologise for the behaviour of the Bulgaria fans, describing their behaviour as "shameful". "I'd like to apologise on behalf of the Bulgarian football union," he said.
Walcott said that he was "aware" of the abuse during the game. "It was very clear," Walcott said "I think the FA will deal with that, I don't want to comment. I ignored it. But that is me. The result was the important thing."
England will still have to win against Wales at Wembley on Tuesday – a game for which Craig Bellamy and David Vaughan will be suspended after bookings last night – and then get a draw at least against Montenegro in Podgorica on 7 October in their final match to be certain of automatic qualification for Euro 2012.
Capello said after the game that Rooney had sustained a toe injury but that the 25-year-old should be fit to play against Wales. Rooney said: "My toe is not a problem. I just landed on it in the second half. The physio has looked at it, said it's fine, no problem and I will take part in training [today]."
As well as two goals from Rooney, Gary Cahill scored on his first competitive start for his country. The Bolton defender, winning just his fourth cap, was the subject of bids from Arsenal and Tottenham towards the end of the transfer window. He said: "It has been a crazy week. But once the window was closed and I knew I was staying I've just got my head down and will work hard for Bolton and my country."
On Rooney, Capello said: "I'm really happy because he scored, and I'm really happy with the performance of the team. Rooney played very well, but the whole team were really focused in every moment. I saw this Bulgarian team play against Switzerland and Montenegro and create a lot of chances, but tonight they only created one."
The most noteworthy selection decision by Capello was his decision to leave Frank Lampard on the bench for the game, the first time that the Chelsea midfielder has been fit and not started a competitive game for England – with the exception of against Russia in September 2007 – since Euro 2004.
Capello said that he had picked his team on form. "Frank didn't play because as I told you, I will choose the first XI from players who, for me, are at the best moment of form. Only [on] this [criteria]."Reuse content