Good Friday: what we learned from a night in Bulgaria that strengthened grip on Group G
Sunday 04 September 2011
1. Cahill is ready to play international football
If half an hour as a substitute in the home game against Bulgaria, plus a friendly against Ghana, were inconclusive, Bolton centre-half Gary Cahill's performance on Friday confirmed he is more than merely comfortable at this level. Justifying his selection ahead of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, he fitted in seamlessly alongside John Terry, adding the bonus of a coolly taken goal and blotting out the one Bulgarian striker Tsvetan Genkov.
2. Lampard may not start many more games
With 87 appearances and 22 goals in the 12 years since his international debut, Frank Lampard has been an invaluable member of the England squad but his chances of achieving 100 caps suddenly look diminished. Although Gareth Barry and Scott Parker are only a couple of years younger, there are Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere to consider too. Substitute appearances offer his best chance now.
3. Rooney is England's most flexible friend
Devastating in the Bulgarians' visit to Wembley, when he made all four goals from a deeper position behind Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney was used further forward this time, from where he scored two goals and could easily have emulated Defoe's hat-trick of last September. Yet even in this role he worked back relentlessly, looking for the ball and chasing everything right until the very last minute to regain the affections of England supporters lost in South Africa.
4. Bulgaria are not very good
With Dimitar Berbatov in the side, the Bulgarians were capable of an occasionally impressive performance, such as scoring six goals before half-time in a World Cup qualifier against Georgia (with a Berbatov hat-trick). Without him – the Manchester United striker retired from the international scene in May last year – they have nothing in attack, as a total of two goals in six Group G matches confirms. Lothar Matthaus, England's old nemesis as Germany skipper, may have replaced Stanimir Stoilov as coach after the Wembley defeat, but to no effect thus far.
5. Racism is alive and sick
The growing number of black players attached to clubs in the old Communist block does not seem to be having the desired effect of breaking down old prejudices. England supporters situated next to the worst offenders said the racist abuse was worse than for some time and was even directed at Bulgaria's one black player – although it has to be said that some English chanting about the hosts was equally offensive.
6. Welsh helped England but now threaten them
It was a huge bonus for Fabio Capello to be told during his after-match media briefing that Wales had held on to inflict a first defeat of the tournament on England's only serious group rivals, Montenegro. That result will lift Gary Speed's team ahead of the trip to Wembley, where they often made life difficult in the past. The disappointment for them is the loss of the suspended Craig Bellamy and David Vaughan.
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