There were one or two surprises in
the selection of the team, most notably no place for Frank Lampard and a
debut for Chris Smalling. The latter lined up at right-back and
continued his incredible rapid and deserved progression to the top of
the football tree.
The other strange decision came in
the kit England were wearing, a dark blue and light blue outfit which
would probably be better seen at an Oxford v Cambridge boat race. At
least it was different!
After a slightly nervous opening ten
minutes when both sides were feeling each other out, England found the
perfect answer to settle those nerves, a goal. Ashley Cole forced a
corner and when the ball was only half cleared Theo Walcott tried a
snapshot which was blocked, but ran back to the Arsenal winger. This
time Walcott touched the ball inside to Gareth Barry who sent a lovely
pass over the top of the defenders to Gary Cahill. The Bolton Wanderers
player expertly chested the ball down and as the goalkeeper came out he
prodded it under his body and into the net. The celebrations were, at
first, muted, but Cahill thinking he was offside suddenly realised he
had scored for his country, and finally looked a little bit pleased!
Cahill had become the first Wanderer's player to score since Ray Parry
Joe Hart's kicking left a little to
be desired, but apart from that England's defence coped easily with a
Bulgaria attack that had nothing much to offer. It was only ever going
to be an England mistake that would offer the home side an opening and
thankfully there was little chance of that. Cahill and John Terry
looked solid and dependable and the two full-backs showed their class.
In front of the back four Scott Parker had a superb game and all through
the match he was busy, tackling, intercepting and always looking to get
forward to support the attack. He was ably assisted by Barry and the
two wide men, Walcott and Stewart Downing. Bulgaria really had no
answer to this England line-up and on 20 minutes their problems grew
Wayne Rooney saw a shot deflected
for a corner and when Downing's cross came over it was Rooney himself
who leapt at the far post unchallenged to head powerfully into the net.
The Manchester United star was outstanding on the night and the many
smiles on his face during the evening highlighted how much he is
enjoying his football at the moment. When Rooney is in this mood he is
Bulgaria did have a ten minute spell
where they exerted a little pressure on England but there were no major
scares. Smalling headed out from under his own crossbar after Hart
misjudged one centre from the right, and then Cole acrobatically headed
clear after Smalling had also misjudged a cross. But England put
the icing on the cake just before the break when Parker charged down a
Bulgarian shot and the ball ran for Walcott to break quickly. As
Ashley Young moved to the right and Walcott cut inside the ball was laid
out to Young and his quick first-time pass ran across goal for Rooney to
have the easiest of tap-ins at the far post to make it 3-0. It was
a devastating and pacy break and it finished the Bulgarians off
completely. That took Rooney to 28 England goals, just two behind
Tom Finney, Alan Shearer and Nat Lofthouse.
England comfortably strolled the
second half although they had to negotiate a ten minute burst after the
restart from the home side. Terry made one very good block and then
Ivanov headed over as Bulgaria responded to their manager's obvious
half-time rollicking, and on 53 minutes Hart made his one difficult save
of the night from Stiliyan Petrov's header. But a minute later England
were on the attack again following a fine run and cross from Walcott.
The ball reached an unmarked Downing at the far post and his header
across goal seemed goalbound until it struck a post before being
cleared. Almost immediately an interception by Parker gave the new
Spurs player the chance to strike for goal, but his toe poke was well
pushed away by Mihaylov. This burst of pressure from England stifled
any thought of a comeback by Bulgaria and rarely has an England side
been so in control.
On the hour Young set Walcott up
with another chance and he really should have scored, and then seven
minutes later Rooney had a header easily saved. The dominance of
England left Bulgaria bereft of ideas and they resorted to some cynical
fouling at times. Luckily the referee kept good control and on 74
minutes Walcott missed his best chance of adding to his England tally of
goals. Rooney set him up with a delightful through ball but Walcott
fired his shot well wide when it seemed easier to score.
was some possibility of a bobble on what was a poor playing surface but
Walcott should have made it four.
Capello made three second half
substitutes with Milner, Lampard and Johnson coming on for Young, Barry
and Walcott, but there was no difference in the play and England looked
so comfortable. All the players looked as though they were really
enjoying it and that makes this fan very happy! Too often recently
playing for England has seemed a chore for the players so it was very
gratifying to see this new relaxed approach.
On 87 minutes Rooney came within a
whisker of reaching a dangerous cross from Milner and the game ended
with Rooney almost finding that elusive third goal, only to be crowded
out by the home defenders. You would have to say that Rooney was
outstanding on the night and he is back to his best form again. But I
felt that Parker was just as effective and gave the perfect performance
as that protector of the back four. His all-round energy was superb,
and his tackling and interceptions were magnificent. Bulgaria had no
answer to him.