Euro 2012 qual. - England back on top after win in Wales
England returned to the top of Group G with a comfortable 2-0 victory over a lacklustre Wales in their Euro 2012 qualifier at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Early goals from Frank Lampard and Darren Bent gave the team skippered by a re-appointed John Terry a foothold they never looked like losing against Gary Speed’s relatively young side, who lacked confidence as they slumped to their fourth defeat in as many qualifying matches.
Wales were abject in the first half and half-decent in the second, although that was partly due to England taking a collective foot off the pedal.
The result puts England top of Group G on goal difference from Montenegro, with both teams on 10 points after four matches. Third and fourth placed Switzerland and Bulgaria shared a goalless draw on Saturday to leave both six points adrift, while Wales are yet to record a point in fifth spot.
England started on the front foot but there was an early hint that Wales might make life difficult for them when Craig Bellamy predictably got in the faces of Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately for the passionate home crowd that was as good as it got as England dominated a first half that saw the hosts offer close to nothing.
Indeed, England keeper Joe Hart’s only acts were a punch from a Bellamy free-kick and a sharp reflex move to gather a superb Cole interception.
Six minutes in the senior Collins slipped as he stretched to reach a Terry pass and, in his desperation to make up for the error, took down Aston Villa team-mate Ashley Young: Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Lampard, who many had expected to be dropped, repaid Capello’s confidence with a cool low finish to the left, sending Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey the wrong way.
The lead was doubled eight minutes later and it was another Collins gift - this time left-back Danny - as man-of-the-match Young was given the freedom of the right wing to hit the byline and pick out an unmarked Bent, who finished into the roof of the net for his third goal in as many international matches.
A two-goal deficit might have riled former Welsh teams but this one - perhaps lacking experience and the mental capacity for a fight - barely raised a whimper as England continued to dominate into half-time as Wilshere and Parker ran the game without really breaking a sweat.
A superb Young half-volley that flew just beyond the top right was a highlight, while Bent could have been quicker to react when a delightful Wilshere pass split the defence in two, Hennessey reading the danger to gather.
Rooney had a quiet-ish game and was booked after two hot-headed challenges in quick succession, meaning he will miss England's next qualifier against Switzerland.
He was denied a clear run on goal by an alert Chris Gunter as Wales spent no more than 10 per cent of the half in England’s final third, with Danny Collins repeatedly caught out of position as he struggled to get to grips with his role covering Andy King’s more advanced position on the left wing.
Wales were a touch more sprightly in the second half, although England had the best chance when Young latched on to a sloppy clearance by Hennessey and put in a superb cross that was just too high for a flying Rooney.
The best Welsh moment in those early stages was a clever run and through-ball from Bellamy, but King was too slow to reach a pass he should have met.
Soon afterwards the same combination saw King reach a Bellamy pass, but the Leicester City midfielder smashed a wild effort well over.
England were drifting into complacency, highlighted on the hour mark when a sloppy Glen Johnson pass ricocheted off Lampard into Steve Morison’s path: Terry saved the day, easing him off the ball to allow Hart to claim.
Minutes later it was Terry’s turn to lose concentration, his poor defensive header letting the Welsh in down the left: Ramsey could only shoot over.
Speed tried to inject some attacking impetus into his side by bringing Ched Evans and David Vaughan into the fold, but Blackpool midfielder Vaughan’s first act was a superbly-timed tackle to prevent Cole racing clear on the break.
Evans seemed more suited to this level than Morison as the ball stuck a bit more to the Welsh frontline: they could only yield half-chances though as England’s defence and, when called upon, Hart dealt with the crosses effectively.
As the match wore on the players’ interest seemed to dissipate with the crowd’s, the final quarter-hour little more than a slog as a rash of yellow cards and the substitution of Wilshere saw a downward spiral in quality and supporter enthusiasm - the rash of laser-pen incidents late on were possibly induced by boredom rather than malice.
England were home and dry and had been since the 15th minute, substitute Stewart Downing putting a fizzing effort just wide as they closed out their third win in four games, ahead of Montenegro on goal difference with the sides level on head-to-head.
Bulgaria and Switzerland look increasingly unlikely to qualify for Euro 2012 after sharing a 0-0 draw in the other Group G match on Saturday.
Home captain Stilian Petrov became the second player from his country to reach 100 caps, following Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov (102), but was unable to inspire his team to their first home victory over the Swiss.
Bulgaria, chasing their first home win in the qualifying campaign, began brightly with Ivelin Popov shooting just wide in the first minute and Dimitar Makriev going close with a header.
Aston Villa midfielder Petrov could have marked his century with a goal but blasted the ball over the bar after a fine solo run and cross from Popov.
Bulgaria were again the livelier side after the break and Stanislav Manolev went narrowly wide with a header while Spas Delev tested keeper Marco Woelfli with a snap shot from the edge of the penalty area.
England and Montenegro are joint top of the group with 10 points from four games. Switzerland are third and Bulgaria fourth, both with four points from as many matches.