Rooney scores twice to maintain England's perfect start

Belarus 1 England 3
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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney scored another two international goals to help England overcome a shaky performance and beat Belarus 3-1 for its best ever start to a World Cup qualifying campaign.

The teams were level at 1-1 until the 50th minute and England's defense looked weak, but Rooney scored two second-half goals to give the visitors a fourth straight win in their attempt to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The victory lifted England to a maximum 12 points from its four Group 6 matches and, with four of the team's remaining six games at home, put it in a strong position to advance and overcome the disappointment of missing out on this year's European Championship.

But England was embarrassed in Minsk when Pavel Sitko scored in the 28th to equalize Steven Gerrard's 11th-minute opener.

Rooney rescued his teammates, as he did by scoring twice in Saturday's 5-1 win over Kazakhstan, to take his tally to seven goals in five games for club and country — and his international figures to 19 in 48.

"When he's in this type of form he's up there with the best players in the world," Gerrard said. "He's a fantastic talent."

The burly striker put England ahead with a close-range finish after Emile Heskey had beaten his marker on the left to deliver a cross that invited Rooney to score. His second goal was a more individual effort as he twisted past a sliding challenge in the area and lifted the ball over stranded goalkeeper Yury Zhaunou.

"We had to work very hard," Rooney said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to my teammates. It's a great three points. Twelve points from the first four games is a great boost for us."

The margin of victory could have been even bigger after Gerrard collected a misplaced pass to get clear in the area only to hit the post with a shot off the outside of his right boot.

England are now five points clear of Croatia, the team that beat it to a place at Euro 2008.

As in Saturday's win, when England looked disjointed and defensively weak until it scored three goals in the last 14 minutes, as they occasionally struggled to cope with the movement and pace of a supposedly weaker team.

Belarus put together a 23-pass move for its goal with minimal resistance from England. Ihar Stasevich dummied inside the area to beat Wayne Bridge, who was filling in at left-back for the injured Ashley Cole, and crossed for the unmarked Sitko to head in the equalizer.

Gerrard had kept his place in the team despite England's switch to a regular 4-4-2 formation and started on the left. His goal came when he cut in from the left to collect a short pass from Rooney after the Manchester United forward had juggled the ball to beat his marker.

Gerrard unleashed a bouncing shot from about 25 yards that curled just inside the goalkeeper's left-hand post.

He went close with another shot from a similar position soon after and Rooney headed just wide in the 26th minute after a left-wing cross to the far post from Heskey.

But Sitko scored just two minutes later and his team was equal to England until Rooney took over.

"We just had to get tighter and try and get more possession of the ball," Rooney said. "I think we did that."

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