Rooney dazzles as England survive early case of jitters
Kazakhstan 0 England 4: Striker's stunner seals win but Green fails to impress behind shaky defence
Sunday 07 June 2009
The England goal machine powers its way on. It is 20 goals in six World Cup games now for Fabio Capello's side and they have a striking ability to find the net in the most inhospitable of places. Four more here in a rumbustious, drum-thumping corner of the former Soviet Union makes the journey towards South Africa next summer begin to look inexorable.
Wayne Rooney's spectacular effort which sealed the win confirms his blossoming under Capello's wing, while Emile Heskey's first competitive goal for England since the 2002 World Cup and his second in two international games offer more encouragement for their partnership. In the end the Kazakh fans remembered why they were here: to scream adoration at David Beckham as he ran on from the bench.
But despite the six wins from six in Group Six and his own peremptory dismissal of the early threat the Kazakhs posed, it would not have been an entirely easy Capello settling into his seat for the flight home to Luton in the early hours. For 30 minutes his side looked anything but world class and the Kazakhs fleetingly seemed set to do what the Dutch did to our cricketers at Lord's 48 hours early.
Robert Green had so despaired of securing a permanent England position that he wore gloves with the words "England's Number 6" stitched in at Birmingham last February and he may reflect this morning that his hopes of succeeding David James permanently may have been severely damaged in the shadow of Almaty's Alatau mountains.
Green's flap at the cross sent in by Tanat Nusserbayev on 19 seconds was an inauspicious start to an evening he had waited four years for, requiring John Terry's firm boot to clear it from the looming presence of Sergey Ostapenko. His failure to take the cross Zhambyl Kukeyev floated over for Ostapenko to nod home at the far post 15 minutes later looked like a catastrophe until the burly Russian-born forward was ruled offside.
Kukeyev had looked a handful in training in midweek and the balls his green boots floated in for Ostapenko were more heavily challenged for by his own defenders than by England's last night. Before Gareth Barry's own fine headed effort set England on their course, this was an evening in which the issue of who might stand in when either Rio Ferdinand or John Terry are missing again raised its head. Matthew Upson did not command as Capello would have wanted.
For a time the nation's 137th-rated nation were outplaying the sixth by a tidy distance and that could not be put down to grass that still looked too long, despite England's request for a second cut, with Astroturf hiding the manhole near the right corner flag the home side attacked first.
It was also England's inability to maintain possession which had Capello leaping from his seat with fury – unable to get a message through the metronomic drum beats – while the Kazakhs attacked with far the more purpose. Glen Johnson, Upson and Barry were the prime offenders in the first half, with Barry's unnecessary grab from behind of Kukeyev earning him the yellow card which will keep him out of Wednesday's clash with Andorra at Wembley and could conceivably see David Beckham start. There were equal frustrations for Theo Walcott, who found a mazy way around the outside in the third minute and wasn't seen again. He simply could not navigate a route past the muscular Yuriy Logvinenko.
But when Ostapenko, the Kazakh's main route to goal, hobbled off minutes after the disallowed goal, his side's attacking threat disappeared with him. England then gradually worked a way into the match, through the technical deficiencies of the Kazakh back four. Rooney was the liveliest of Capello's men, switching intermittently with Gerrard between a left and central role, and Barry also exerted more influence as the evening wore on. It was he who lurked behind Eugene Averchenko to nod home Gerrard's cross to send England ahead.
Just before half-time the course of the night was set when Gerrard's floated effort was palmed by keeper Alexandr Mokin straight to the feet of Heskey, who scored. Capello replaced the jaded Walcott with Shaun Wright-Phillips down the right in the second half but still England laboured to deliver some of the attacking intent which have made them one of the world's prime attacking forces in the qualifying rounds of this tournament.
While Johnson still struggled against the attacking threat of Kukeyev, he was able to get around the Kazakh player himself on 73 minutes to hoist a cross which Rooney first headed – forcing a fine gloved save from Mokin – and then deposited with a spectacular overhead kick.
The rout was completed five minutes later when Heskey was pulled down by Renat Abdulin and Lampard dispatched the penalty "Don't be hurry please. Don't leave the stadium now," the departing England fans were eccentrically implored by the Kazakh announcers at the end. But England are in a hurry. Another win against Andorra and they will believe they have one foot in South Africa.
Bookings: Kazakhstan: Nusserbayev, Abdulin. England: Barry.
Referee: Kristinn Jakobsson
Man of the match: Rooney
Match rating: 6/10
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