VIDEO: Rooney's rage hurts England
United striker facing costly Euros ban after red card
Montenegro 2, England 2,
Published 08/10/2011 | 05:00
On a stormy night in the Balkans, England made heavy weather of reaching Euro 2012, receiving a timely reminder of the work required before next summer.
As the rain lashed down in the first half, goals from Ashley Young and Darren Bent put Fabio Capello's side in charge, but poor concentration allowed Elsad Zverotic and Andrija Delibasic to equalise and book the hosts' place in the play-offs.
And as for Wayne Rooney ... his red for a wild kick on Miodrag Dzudovic, an act of rank indiscipline, will see him suspended for the start of the Euros.
It is a minimum one-game ban, possibly more at Uefa's discretion. It was madness, his frustration at losing possession no excuse. It will raise questions of whether he was distracted by off-field issues. No excuse. This was unforgivable, casting a cloud over the night and England's Euro hopes.
It was only fitting that England's qualification should be secured away from Wembley where they often resemble lost lambs, weighed down by expectation; such a contrast to the lions on foreign fields.
England looked good on the road, winning in Basel, Cardiff and Sofia. In front of 1,200 all-singing, all-dancing followers they progressed to the Euros. They played with swagger, pace and organisation for 44 minutes, but must now transfer that form to Warsaw and Kiev.
With a summer booked in Poland and Ukraine, the nation will now devote time to the enjoyable fantasy football game of helping Capello pick his 23 chosen ones. Those with even only a passing knowledge of football history will be aware of the pitfalls that lurk between now and May in a tournament season, the threat of injury suffered on the club treadmill.
Phil Jones made his debut at right-back here, was occasionally caught out by Stevan Jovetic, the Fiorentina winger, and deserves a chance in the centre. There is an authority to Jones that indicates he will be around for many years to come. Right-back remains a problem position.
If all are fit, the following starting XI at Euro 2012 would possess a good balance: Hart;Scott Parker, Wilshere; Young, Carroll, Downing. Rooney's suspension causes Capello a real headache. Rooney had played well, dropping deep, taking the ball off Parker and Gareth Barry, pulling the strings, playing a part in the first-half goals for Young and Bent.
One of the many miserable memories of the 2010 World Cup was how exposed Capello's midfield was in a 4-4-2. England need 4-3-3. Against weaker opponents, Capello can jettison a midfielder and introduce another centre-forward but there will be no weak opponents at the Euros.
Against opponents who had shown they were far from weak in the stalemate at Wembley, Capello had sprung a surprise, electing to start with Bent. As the skies darkened with storm-clouds, England began brightly, setting up camp in Montenegro's half and only a late lapse scarred a hugely encouraging first 45.
Theo Walcott tested Mladen Bozovic, signalling the visitors' intent, and then England had their fans really singing in the rain. The move for the first was as slick as the surface, the ball skimming between the quick feet of Rooney through the middle and then Walcott down the right.
The Arsenal winger showed his threat down the flank, drilling a perfect cross to the far post where Young headed in. Young's place in the starting XI is now well established, his pace, goal threat and set-piece contributions make a mockery of the memory of his early days of self-doubt with England. Walcott still has much to prove, and has rarely shone at home when opponents sit deeper, but he was lively here.
In truth, Montenegro's national anthem was more threatening than their team early on, as their centre-halves struggled to deal with the slippery surface and England's speed, but it was still the perfect start, settling any English nerves, setting the fans thinking of the Euros.
Much work remains to be done. Jones was having to learn on his feet, occasionally off them. Jovetic, sensing a chance, began dribbling at the Manchester United defender. England were covering well for each other, Gary Cahill sliding across to hook the ball clear when Jovetic got the better of Jones.
Jones was then grateful to Barry for tracking back and clearing Vladimir Bozovic's cross. Barry was quietly impressive, dovetailing with Parker to break a half-hearted Montenegrin attack, setting the stage for England's second. Rooney took over, sending Young scampering down the inside-left channel.
The United flier's cross was perfection, albeit a bittersweet sight for Villa fans as Bent tapped home at the far post.
England were in control, forcing Mirko Vucinic deeper, but slightly ruining their good work as Wolfgang Stark prepared to blow for half-time. Lacking concentration, England were culpable in not clearing properly, allowing Montenegro to give their fans something substantial to sing about. John Terry was too slow to close down Zverotic, whose shot deflected off Cahill and wrong-footed the unfortunate Joe Hart.
Montenegro almost equalised as the second half opened. Jovetic was convinced that Jones had brought him down, and England sighed in relief as Stark waved the hosts' appeals away. These were nervy times for England, Rooney and Young slipping and only some great anticipation by Cole rescuing Capello's side.
These were reminders that England remain very much a work in progress compared to the likes of Spain and Germany.
Capello sought to regain the initiative on the hour, sending on Downing for Young. Frank Lampard then arrived as England sought to weather a storm intensified by Rooney's expulsion for kicking out. Crazy. England are a qualified success. (© Daily Telegraph, London)