Rooney on fire but England are strikers light
England 4 Slovakia 0: Beckham breaks Moore's caps record and delivers trademark cross to set up second goal
Sunday 29 March 2009
Four goals and three injured strikers. As a warm-up for Wednesday's World Cup game with Ukraine this was a more than satisfactory scoreline, but all the heat treatment England's medical staff can muster will be required to bring the strike-force to anything like full strength in the next four days. As a moderate Slovakia were brushed aside, successive blows deprived Fabio Capello of first Emile Heskey, then the substitute Carlton Cole and finally – and almost unbelievably – Cole's replacement, Peter Crouch.
Cole has already been ruled out of the Ukraine game. Tottenham's Darren Bent has had the summons, while Gabriel Agbonlahor will be cursing the injury that caused him to miss Friday night's Under-21 match. But Fabio Capello again made it clear that Michael Owen, the scorer of 40 international goals, has not played sufficient football recently to merit a recall for the first time in a year.
In their only two previous games with England, the Slovaks had been beaten by two goals from Owen after taking the lead. Yesterday there was no danger of that, England scoring early and going on to dominate most of the game despite the disruption to their attack. They were able to afford the luxury of looking at a different formation for the last hour, switching after the second substitution to a 4-2-3-1 with first Steven Gerrard and then Wayne Rooney in the central role behind the main striker. The excellent link-up play between that pair will have given Ukraine's coach, Aleksei Mihailichenko, as much food for thought as the injuries to those around them. Each made an early chance for Heskey, who had not scored for England in almost six years but should have netted twice in a minute.
Slovakia's defensive strongman Martin Skrtel could justifiably claim to have mastered Rooney and Heskey during Liverpool's recent emphatic victories over Manchester United (4-1) and Aston Villa (5-0). Not yesterday, when he was undone as early as the seventh minute. Rooney sent Gerrard to the byline to cut back a low cross for Heskey, who got ahead of Skrtel to nudge the ball in. In the next attack Rooney chipped an enticing cross from the left but the Villa striker, barely four yards out, headed over the bar.
He would contribute little else, a hamstring problem forcing him to limp off with less than a quarter of an hour played. West Ham's Cole arrived, having made his debut as a substitute for 15 minutes of the previous game in Spain, but to his frustration he would manage no longer this time. Just after the half-hour, he strained a groin attempting a shot on a swift England break and had to make way for Crouch.
Slovakia, meanwhile, had improved and shown some inclination to move forward at last. Stanislav Sestak volleyed a cross over the bar and Miroslav Karhan brought a first save from David James, preferred in goal to Ben Foster for the first half.
The goalkeeper would have to pull off another one before the interval, when Ashley Cole's unwise pass from the touchline eluded Matthew Upson – unexpectedly playing after Rio Ferdinand had suffered a recurrence of a back strain – and the visitors' captain and lone attacker, Robert Vittek, hit a good shot that James pushed over the bar.
The second half brought David Beckham and Stewart Downing on to the pitch for Aaron Lennon and Gerrard, though the formation remained the same, with Rooney filling Gerrard's role. Beckham played, as Capello put it, "like Beckham", and his free-kick on the hour should have brought a goal for Crouch, whose header was going in until John Terry helped it on its way and was rightly given offside. Ten minutes later, Beckham retrieved Gareth Barry's cross and chipped back for Rooney to head in.
Crouch had to depart with a back injury, his replacement, Michael Carrick, coming on to play the disciplined Frank Lampard through for the third goal. Rooney, looking offside, neatly knocked in the fourth from Lampard's pass. Now it's over to the medical team.
Booking: Slovakia: Sapara.
Attendance: 85,512. Referee: A Hamer (Luxem).
Man of the match: Rooney. Match rating: 6/10
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