World Cup - Crouch makes case as England win
Peter Crouch scored twice as England's squad players staked claims in a 3-0 win over Belarus in their final World Cup qualifying Group 6 match at Wembley.
The Tottenham man netted his 17th and 18th goals in 35 appearances for his country and with 18 of those caps coming from the bench, he has an impressive haul of 16 strikes from his 17 starts.
First-choice striker Emile Heskey was rested and his record of seven goals in 57 England appearances pales in comparison to Crouch's, while good performances from Shaun-Wright Phillips - who also scored - and substitutes David Beckham and James Milner gave coach Fabio Capello a welcome headache ahead of the finals.
In the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney, England fielded a new-look strike pairing of Crouch and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
It reaped dividends soon enough as, on four minutes, Agbonlahor raced on to a superb through-ball from former Aston Villa team-mate Gareth Barry and cut it back to Crouch, who slid in to scuff the ball past Belarus keeper Yuri Zhevnov.
The visiting side were not discouraged though, winning a corner soon afterwards and going close when Sergei Kornilenko put the ball just wide at the near post.
The hosts had good chances to extend their lead, but Crouch headed Frank Lampard's excellent corner wide while Agbonlahor was denied by a smart stop from Zhevnov as he raced clear down the right midway through the first half.
From that point on, though, England went off the boil as Bernd Stange's side stroked the ball around nicely and had Capello's group winners on the back foot without really testing stand-in keeper Ben Foster.
It took until the latter stages of the half for England to reawaken from their slumber, with a renewed sense of urgency seeing Crouch's diving header go just wide after a quick-fire, right-wing counter led by Glen Johnson and Aaron Lennon.
The second half was much better from England, as they bossed possession and forced Belarus to the edge of their penalty box with incessant pressure.
Lampard forced a good stop from Zhevnov with a dipping free-kick two minutes after the restart, while Wright-Phillips, working manfully on the left, started to pose problems for the opposing defence with his direct running.
Beckham entered the fray on the hour mark and his first contribution was to play a corner low to Wright-Phillips who, from the edge of the box, drilled a low shot that zipped under the outstretched arm of the culpable Zhevnov and into the bottom right for the Manchester City winger's fifth goal for his country.
England sat back and Belarus almost hit a quick reply, but a superb one-touch move and top-right finish by Sergei Omelyanchuk was denied by a brilliant, one-handed reflex save from Foster.
Normal service soon resumed for Foster, who followed up his spectacular stop with two shaky moments in failing to dominate at set-pieces, but as third-choice to Robert Green and David James he will be content to make the plane to South Africa.
England sealed the win on 76 minutes with another opportunistic strike from Crouch, who slid the ball home from close range after anticipating the rebound off Zhevnov as substitute Carlton Cole fired a low shot from the right.
England slipped into training-ground mode, mesmerising Belarus with neat passing and movement, as they looked to help Crouch to a hat-trick by getting it wide as often as possible for early crosses into the box.
He was unable to capitalise though, and his team-mates hit the woodwork twice in a minute late on, with Capello's hungry subs following Crouch in demanding more involvement in South Africa.
Milner got forward from left-back, dribbled clear of the final defender and fired across the keeper only to see his finish rebound off the inside of the far post and across the line to safety, while Beckham drilled a low shot off the other stick moments later.
The victory means England finish Group 6 six points clear of second-placed Ukraine, second only to European champions Spain in the UEFA section, with a goal-difference of +28, the best in qualification.
Andorra 0-6 Ukraine
Ukraine secured a place in the play-offs when Andriy Shevchenko scored to set up a 6-0 thrashing of Andorra.
England had already qualified for South Africa as Group 6 winners and Ukraine sealed second place with 21 points from 10 matches, one ahead of Croatia who won 2-1 in Kazakhstan. Andorra finished bottom of the group with 10 defeats in a row.
Former Milan and Chelsea striker Shevchenko, now back at Dynamo Kiev, exchanged passes with Oleg Gusev in the 22nd minute and smashed the ball high into the net from a tight angle to set Ukraine on their way.
They took their foot off the gas once they had the lead but a quickly-taken free-kick in the 61st minute released Gusev and he rifled home past Andorra goalkeeper Josep Gomes.
Andorra had defended bravely against the Ukrainian onslaught but Ildefons Lima was caught out in the 70th minute and diverted the ball past Gomes into his own net.
The floodgates opened and Ukraine added three more goals in four minutes through Yaroslav Rakitsky, Yevgen Seleznov and Andriy Yarmolenko.
The eight best runners-up across the nine European qualifying groups enter the two-legged play-offs to take place on November 14 and 18.
Kazakhstan 1-2 Croatia
An injury-time goal from Niko Kranjcar gave Croatia a 2-1 win over Kazakhstan but the Croatians will miss the finals for the first time since they started competing as an independent nation in 1991.
Midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic headed in a Darijo Srna corner to give Croatia an early lead, but their celebrations were muted several minutes later by the news from Andorra.
The Kazakhs equalised with a flowing team move in the 26th minute, when striker Sergey Khizhnichenko swept in a good low cross from the right by Yevgeniy Averchenko.
Croatia twice hit the woodwork and the home team's goalkeeper Alexandr Mokin produced a string of superb saves before Kranjcar headed in Srna's cross from the right to give the 1998 World Cup semi-finalists some consolation.
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said poor finishing had cost his team a place in the finals and declined to answer whether he would stay in charge.
"We will sit down in a few days and analyse the entire situation with the rest of the staff and the FA officials before I make a decision," he told Croatian television.
"We missed a lot of chances today and that has been the story of our qualifying campaign.
"Too many times we hit the woodwork, too many times our shots went just high or wide, our luck deserted us and all I can do is wish Ukraine good luck in the play-offs."