ENGLAND are up and running, taking a confident stride down the road to Rio with this emphatic victory over Moldova, a very modest chip off the old Eastern Bloc.
Playing with welcome pace and fluidity, England secured their biggest away win in 19 years, dating back to their 7-1 victory over San Marino.
The damage was done relentlessly through a brace for Frank Lampard and well-taken strikes for Jermain Defoe and James Milner, as well as Leighton Baines' deflected free-kick. Lampard inevitably collected the garlands and the headlines but praise should be shared all around.
Milner was outstanding, a font of energy and intelligence in possession, a sustained force first down the right flank and then the left. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain again reminded everyone that he belongs at international level, albeit acknowledging that Moldova were insipid.
Tom Cleverley was neat and nimble, always a positive presence around the Moldova box as England began qualifying for Brazil 2014 in style.
Glenn Hoddle had set out for a World Cup 16 years ago in Moldova, recording a 3-0 win, a scoreline that Roy Hodgson's side had matched by half-time.
England ran rampant in the first half, Lampard scoring twice and Defoe once but it could have been 6-0. England could have been playing the Moldovans at tennis.
Hodgson even felt confident enough to withdraw his tireless captain Steven Gerrard at the break, sending on Michael Carrick to work alongside Lampard, who assumed the captaincy.
Moldova were poor, inviting England on, ushering them into their box like kindly hosts and gifting them frequent sights of goal but Hodgson's men deserve praise for going for the jugular so ruthlessly. England have made hard work of such trips before. Euro 2012 had been ultimately disappointing but Hodgson had been true to his word of injecting more fluidity, imagination and a touch of youthful promise. Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Arsenal teenager, certainly provided that.
Hodgson had continued with the 4-2-3-1 shape of the team that beat Italy in last month's friendly but only Lampard, Leighton Baines and Tom Cleverley kept their places, although Defoe was rewarded for his fine goal in Berne as a substitute with a starting place and a 50th cap.
As the game unfolded, the attention was immediately drawn to how Cleverley, wearing the No 10 shirt, would fare in the hole behind Defoe.
Moments before Moldova kicked off, Gerrard had to push Cleverley towards the halfway line as the Manchester United midfielder had lined up deeper. He needed no further prompting. Cleverley was soon demonstrating his promise, turning away from a Moldovan challenge and releasing Oxlade-Chamberlain down the left, giving the youngster a chance to show his pace and control.
Cleverley even won that third-minute penalty converted so assuredly by Lampard. Gerrard began the move, accelerating through the middle before slipping the ball right to James Milner.
The Manchester City player, producing one of his most adventurous and productive halves of football for England, drilled the ball across to Cleverley, whose shot was handled by Semion Bulgaru. It was slightly harsh, the ball driven at him but the Dutch ref Paulus van Boekel pointed to the spot.
Lampard effortlessly swept the penalty past goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco, becoming England's all-time top scorer in World Cup qualifying with 10 goals.
England were in charge, moving the ball quickly up field. Defoe stabbed a shot wide after good work by the lively Oxlade-Chamberlain.
England endured some briefly worrying moments, Artur Patras sending a shot over and then forcing Joe Hart to drop to his right to make a smart save.
Then Glen Johnson raided forward, running on to Gerrard's pass and lifting in a superb cross that cleared the Moldovan defence, the ball arriving almost smiling for Lampard. He steered his header perfectly past Namasco.
The timing of the visitors' runs were destroying Moldova. Oxlade-Chamberlain, moving menacingly all over the final third, created England's third with a strong charge through the middle and then a well-judged pass for Defoe to beat Namasco with a firm shot at the near post.
The manager began ringing the changes. First Carrick arrived for Gerrard, then Theo Walcott for Oxlade-Chamberlain, allowing Milner to parade his versatility on the left.
Halfway through the second period, Danny Welbeck assumed the front-running mantle from Defoe.
Welbeck and Walcott were involved in teeing up Milner, who scored his first England goal with a low drive past poor Namasco. England finished with 10 men after John Terry limped towards the tunnel, necessitating Carrick to play centre-back. (© Daily Telegraph, London)