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Red-hot Rooney sinks Bulgaria

the best thing about Wayne Rooney playing at the very peak of his powers is that he just makes the complicated task of scoring goals look so easy, and rarely has it looked as simple for England's leading footballer as it did last night.

Rooney had dispatched both his goals by half-time last night with the confidence of a man who knows he is bang in form and does not believe there is a defence in the world capable of keeping him in check. Certainly, that defence was never going to be the Bulgarian defence last night, an anxious corden of four who dithered and hesitated in the first half to an excruciating degree.

For all Bulgaria's shortcomings, there is no point downgrading a victory on a ropey pitch in front of a hostile crowd. Capello has made a virtue of winning all his away games in this campaign and with Rooney in one of those goalscoring patches of form England look set fair for qualification. If only their form at Wembley had been as good as it has been on the road, they would be booking the hotel in Poland for next summer by now.

Rooney's two goals made it 28 in 71 caps, which moves him up to joint seventh in the all-time goalscorers' list for England and just two behind the likes of Alan Shearer and Tom Finney.


Gary Cahill scored the first as Bulgaria collapsed before half-time on a pitch that was so bad it looked like it might have been left dry and bumpy on purpose. There was shameful racial abuse directed at Ashley Young and Theo Walcott from the home fans.

There was also a significant shift in Capello's selection policy when he left Frank Lampard on the bench with Gareth Barry and Scott Parker starting in central midfield. In the end, of the young Manchester United players in the squad it was only Chris Smalling who started the game while Phil Jones did not even merit a place on the bench, and neither did his United team-mate Tom Cleverley. But despite an initial awkwardness at Capello's formation, England settled down nicely.

With the nervous energy of his World Cup performances last summer, Capello was up and down from his seat in the first half, marshalling his team back and forwards with sweeps of his arm. He was anxious and it was obvious why: his team, shoehorned into an unusual formation, started slowly.

Luckily for Capello in that first half, Bulgaria were so bad that any notion of a threat quickly receded. The home side had a very brief flurry of possession in the last 10 minutes of the first half when they were already two goals down, but by half-time -- and three goals behind -- they were booed off by their own fans. It was not a verdict you could argue with.

The three-goal lead that Capello's team had established by half-time was pretty emphatic but nonetheless, his team found it hard to settle into the 4-2-3-1 formation their manager had set them up in. The chief problem was the use of Young, whose presence on the left wing had been used to devastating effect in the season so far by Alex Ferguson, as a No 10, behind Rooney.

Like the new dark blue England away shirts, this was a look that just did not -- how to put it? -- feel right. Young's great talent for committing defenders and running with the ball is not best exploited when he is being asked to play with his back to goal and a defender thundering in behind him. In the three creative players behind Rooney -- Theo Walcott, Young and Stewart Downing -- Capello had picked three wingers, and it showed.

But this was only Bulgaria with by far their best player, Dimitar Berbatov, in the stands talking to Gary Neville. England took control in the 13th minute when Cahill took Barry's cross on his chest, drew the goalkeeper Nikolai Mihaylov and poked the ball into the net in his first competitive start for England.

Bulgaria were at their worst at the back, no more so than when they allowed Rooney to get in at the back post 13 minutes after Cahill's goal to head in Downing's cross. His only challenger for the ball was John Terry.

For Rooney it ended another one of those fallow periods he seems periodically to endure without an international goal. This was his first in a year, his last one came against Switzerland 12 months previously. Still Capello was not happy, imploring his midfield to pressurise their opponents. Scott Parker lunged in with a two-footed tackle on Blagoi Georgiev and was lucky he was only booked.

England's third was the best. A good run from Walcott drew defenders towards him, he laid the ball off to Young who picked out Rooney nicely at the back post for a simple second goal.

After half-time, Capello switched his formation to 4-5-1 with Young restored to his more natural position on the left wing. With Downing forced to adopt a more central position it was not long before the England manager changed again. He brought off Young for James Milner, and played him just behind Rooney.

There was one excellent save from Joe Hart to deny Ivelin Popov in the second half but it was a sign of just how quiet England kept their opponents that the home crowd became diverted by their own pyrotechnics in the stands towards the end of the game.

Downing grazed the far post with a header from a Walcott cross. Rooney had a chance for his hat-trick in injury-time. With two games left in qualification, Capello would appear to have got it right so far. (© Independent News Service)

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