Rooney finds a reason to celebrate (almost)

Troubled striker scores his first England goal for a year as convincing 3-1 win gives Capello the performance he has craved
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The Independent Football

England captain Steven Gerrard last night acknowledged the contribution Wayne Rooney had made in putting his personal circumstances aside to score his first international goal in over a year and set up a wonderfully fluent 3-1 win over Switzerland.

"He was terrific, like he was on Friday [in the 4-0 win over Bulgaria]" said Gerrard, who had declared before the game that Rooney ought to play, despite the personal allegations surrounding him. "It's great for Wayne. All the talk before was about Wayne so it was nice for him to get the early goal here."

The gloss was taken off Rooney's seventh-minute goal – his first in 967 minutes of international football and his first of any kind from open play in competitive football since last March – by an injury sustained by Theo Walcott as England broke into the area.

Although Walcott was carried from the field by stretcher and taken to hospital for an X-ray on his right ankle, initial reports suggest it was a sprain rather than a break and the England manager, Fabio Capello, said the Arsenal player had told him he would be absent for less than two weeks. That will be a relief for the Arsenal, manager, Arsène Wenger, who learnt yesterday that the ankle injury Robin van Persie suffered at Blackburn will keep him out until mid-October.

Six points from two painfully weak sides must be kept in proper perspective, despite England's commanding early position in Group G. "We're nowhere near there yet," Gerrard wisely cautioned. "It's going to take another two years to prove to our supporters and the rest of the world that England are back. Two good results do not make you a good team. What makes you a good team is qualifying easy out of the group and going into a big tournament and proving you can mix it with the best."

Walcott's injury allowed substitute Adam Johnson, England's best player, to confirm his arrival on the international stage when he coolly rounded Diego Benaglio for England's second goal on 69 minutes. The night also brought a first international goal, a minute from time, for Darren Bent, another of the 30-man World Cup squad who failed to make the final cut.

"I never thought my England chances would fade," the Sunderland striker said last night. "As long as my Premier League form is good, international football will never be too far away. I started the season like I finished last season. Hopefully, I can score more. I have always scored goals for my clubs."

Rooney's celebrations after his goal were muted, perhaps understandably given he has endured two days of intense scrutiny over his alleged relationship with prostitute Jennifer Thompson.

His general contribution also faded in the second half, but the injured England captain, Rio Ferdinand, offered his own commentary on his manchester United team-mate's goal through his Twitter feed: "I told u my boy would get a goal."

Capello was more circumspect about Rooney, who must now face his wife, Coleen, and a return to Goodison Park on Saturday. "I told you yesterday that he had been OK in training," Capello said. "I'd seen that. Now he plays an official game really well. The players want to play without other things on their minds. They can focus on the game alone. He did that today."

This was arguably England's best display since the win in Croatia two years ago on Friday. Capello's explanation was clear. "You know my answer. We are really good in this period because we are fresh," he said. "All the players can run, their minds are free. Everything they try to do comes off."

Gerrard added: "The first half performance was perfect, we did everything the manager asked and got the game plan spot on. We got a bit lazy in the second half and the passing wasn't quick enough but it was never in doubt People were talking about how good Switzerland were in defence but we tore them apart."

Jermain Defoe limped off for a second successive international, though Capello said he had not sustained any kind of injury.