Fabio Capello offered an indignant and prickly riposte to his critics last night, declaring that he had ignored them as he sent his side out for the spectacular start to the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, which included a Jermain Defoe hat-trick and helped start the process of restoring his battered reputation.
"I was focused on the game, not the critics," Capello said, declaring that his own instructions – which included a new, highly profitable role behind Defoe for Wayne Rooney – were key to a 4-0 victory which helped England, who have now won 11 successive games at Wembley, ease the pain of South Africa. "I think the most important thing was to win. When you lose, do you know what happens?" Capello said. Asked what that might be, he said. "You know. You write enough about when I lose. The most important thing is to win. The other is not so important."
Some of the lustre of England's victory was removed by what looked like severe knee ligament damage sustained by Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson, which saw him taken from the field on a stretcher just before the hour. Capello said he was "a little bit concerned" but was "not a doctor" and would await medical reports on the 26-year-old, though Phil Jagielka, who partnered Dawson, felt the injury was not as bad as it looked.
But the night belonged to Defoe, whose goal against Slovenia in the World Cup was previously the only one either he or Wayne Rooney had scored while partnering each other in attack. The Tottenham striker received a text message from the former Arsenal forward Ian Wright before the game, telling him it was about time he scored a treble – his first for England. "Before the game Ian said 'you are due a hat-trick,'" Defoe said. "He texted me after the match and said 'I love you JD, well done!'. It's brilliant. We always speak about scoring goals."
Defoe pulled up after scoring his third goal and immediately left the field but said he had merely been "caught" on his ankle after striking the ball and had not been feeling the effects of the long-standing groin strain which Tottenham announced last month would require surgery putting him out of the game for up to a month. Defoe also suggested he may not need that operation. "It was definitely the sweetest hat-trick of my career," Defoe said last night. "When you do it for your country that's special. I'd felt my groin a bit but I've done a lot of work in the gym and it's improved a lot. I'm definitely fit for Tuesday. When you play with a strike partner it takes time to gel but Wayne's a great player and I know if I make the runs he will find me. When I got the second he said 'keep it going and you'll get the third.'"
Of his only moderate success partnering Rooney, Defoe, whose England strike rate is now 15 in 44 appearances, replied: "I have never heard that to be honest. It is not about the forwards. It is about the team. The team has to play well, not just the forwards." And he insisted that having two small strikers in tandem could work.
"Look at the likes of Spain and Argentina – their players are not big. Some of the greatest players in the world over history have not been big. It is not to do with size, it is whether you can play and if your movement is good, no defender likes playing against you."
Rooney, allowed a far more fluid, roving role, was arguably even more integral to the win, which was also marked out by the displays of two of the new guard. Manchester City's Adam Johnson scored his first international goal while Joe Hart made two superb saves and placed himself in firm possession of the goalkeeper's jersey for the campaign, which continues against Switzerland in Basle on Tuesday night.
Hart's superb instinctive save on the hour from Stanislav Angelov set in train the flowing counter-attack which ended with Defoe's second goal and the goalkeeper attributed his technique in standing tall to make a second save to watching his former Manchester City team-mate Kasper Schmeichel.
Capello, whose decision to exclude West Ham United's Matthew Upson from the substitutes' bench suggests that Bolton Wanderer's Gary Cahill is now ahead of him in the pecking order, dismissed suggestions he was wrong not to play Hart in the summer. "Now you can speak about this evening. The past is the past. I'm really happy the players did what I said before the game," the manager said. "The movement, the pressing and they won the ball back really quickly. Four passes by Rooney, three goals by Defoe: they are two fantastic players but I'm pleased with the whole team."
Cahill appeared for the first time for England when he arrived for the last half hour in Dawson's place. Earlier in the evening, Capello claimed Manchester United's Paul Scholes had gone back on an initial decision to feature in the World Cup squad.