Saturday 20 January 2018

Defoe boosts English pride

Spurs striker's clinical treble provides Capello with the perfect tonic to World Cup hangover

England 4 Bulgaria 0 Henry Winter

Three points made and a monster point proved: England do have some capable players.

A superb hat-trick from Jermain Defoe and a neat finish from Adam Johnson got England's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign up and running with a flourish.

England looked so much better with Fabio Capello trusting in Steven Gerrard in the centre, having faith in Joe Hart in goal and giving a chance to Adam Johnson. He liberated Wayne Rooney in a 4-4-1-1 system, the Manchester United striker excelling between the lines, helping create all of Defoe's goals.

If victory provided some breathing space for Capello, as well as eliciting a few 'if only'' sighs over his summer mistakes, the win was also England's 11th successive triumph at Wembley, a record.

However, England must now travel to Basel's 42,500-capacity St Jakob Park without Michael Dawson, who damaged knee ligaments, while Defoe limped off.

To remind his players of the need to atone for the summer, Capello had shown Defoe, Gerrard and company a DVD of the Germany match on Wednesday night and such shock tactics seemed to have worked, judging by England's electric opening.

Even before Defoe's deft strike, Capello's men had demonstrated a more positive intent in possession, Gerrard playing the quarterback. The captain had set the mood, demanding an upbeat tempo, commanding his team to put Bulgaria on to the back foot.

It worked. Within three minutes, England were ahead. The move began with good work from James Milner down the left, the Manchester City midfielder winning the ball and passing to Rooney.

Rooney, a different force now, showed his old deftness of touch, dinking a superb pass on to the left foot of Ashley Cole. Wembley's many latecomers, held up by the terrible Friday rush-hour traffic, hurried to their seats as the move gained in menace. Cole shot goalwards, forcing Nikolay Mihaylov into a reaction save.

Bulgaria froze. England swooped. Cole hooked the ball back across and there was the nimble Defoe, reacting brilliantly, throwing himself athletically into the air and connecting with an unanswerable volley, triggering the scoreboard into life and easing Wembley's nerves.

An inquest swept through the visitors' ranks. Nobody had tracked Cole.

Ivan Ivanov had failed to stick tight to the Tottenham striker. For all the recriminations, Bulgaria were ripped apart by the speed and accuracy of England's attack.

As England celebrated, as the bench erupted in elation, Capello stayed rooted to his seat, showing not a flicker of emotion. He was soon patrolling his technical area, barking instructions, telling his players to maintain this intense tempo.

To Wembley's delight, England were in control, their forward momentum assisted by a Hungarian referee in Viktor Kassai who applied the advantage at every opportunity. Gerrard was in charge, relishing being in the centre, pulling the strings, drilling 50-yard passes wide to James Milner on the left and Theo Walcott on the right.

Time and again, the Liverpool captain looked to slip quick, low passes through to the receptive feet of his friend and fellow-Merseysider, Rooney.

The Manchester United striker looked far less 'dishevelled,' the intriguing description applied by Mike Phelan of Rooney on his return from South Africa. Far more like his old influential self, Rooney kept dropping off, giving England an option short and a welcome fluency.

England's confidence was bolstered by the presence of a commanding No?1, Joe Hart, reminding everyone of the mistake of not starting him in South Africa. Here was a keeper prepared to dominate his box, to charge out and claim crosses, the type of keeper that defenders prefer.

Manchester City's keeper soon showed the quality of his reflexes, parading those high concentration levels with an important stop midway through the half. Chavdar Yankov crossed from the right and Glen Johnson, spooked by Martin Petrov, drove the ball goalwards. Fortunately for the full-back and England, Hart dived to his right to stop the ball just before it crossed the line.

As well as Hart, Phil Jagielka also impressed defensively. When Yankov, Bulgaria's busy No?8, burst down the inside-right channel, Jagielka was alive to the danger. Timing his interception well, the Everton centre-half slid in to steer the ball away from under the Yankov's feet.

Then Dawson, whose evening was to end so painfully, came to England's rescue, clearing from Yankov's cross.

As well as individually, England were hunting the ball in packs. When Ivelin Popov attempted to insinuate his way down the right, Gerrard joined Jagielka in ushering him down a cul-de-sac and ambushing him.

After a quiet period, England burst back into life.

Walcott's pace was always a concern for Bulgaria. In one run, the Arsenal flier twice beat Zhivko Milanov before lifting in a cross that Mihaylov tipped over for a corner. The focus then turned to England's left with Milner, who seemed to work well with Cole, tried his luck with a shot deflected wide.

Lacking a cutting edge without the retired Dimitar Berbatov, Bulgaria flickered with life, Yankov delivering another cross easily held by Hart.

England still needed to be alert, to keep their shape. Barry was quietly important, intelligently slotting into the right-back position at one point when Glen Johnson was caught forward.

Sadly, as Wembley tried to avert its gaze, Dawson twisted his knee ligaments, the poor Spurs defender immediately signalling his distress. As Dawson departed on a stretcher, Bolton's Gary Cahill sprinted on for his debut.

Bulgaria sensed a vulnerability in England's defence, immediately pouring through the middle.

Hart stood firm. Key moment. The keeper somehow repelled Yankov's fierce shot.

From staring down the barrel of a 1-1 scoreline, England sped down the field to make it 2-0.

Gerrard, again enjoying that central role, sent Rooney through and the United striker cleverly released Defoe down the inside-left channel.

Defoe's finish was clinical, the ball placed expertly through Mihaylov's legs.

There was more, much more. With seven minutes remaining, Adam Johnson cut in and scored with a low shot.

England then broke away again, Rooney again showing how important he is with another defence-splitting pass to Defoe, who completed his hat-trick with another emphatic strike. England are up and running. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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