Euro 2012 qual. - England crush Bulgaria

Fri, 03 Sep 21:49:00 2010

Jermain Defoe scored a hat-trick while Wayne Rooney returned to form as England hammered Bulgaria 4-0 in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Wembley.

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In front of 73,000 and wearing a blue-tinged new kit, Defoe opened the scoring on three minutes and added a second just after the hour mark, while Adam Johnson scored a late third from the bench.

Defoe sealed the rout with a spanking finish from a Rooney assist but there will be worries for Tottenham and England as he picked up an injury while scoring the third.

Rooney assisted the first and last goals and was involved in the second as he found his mojo after a summer of despair that saw him lose form for club and country.

The win was soured by a serious knee injury to Michael Dawson on his competitive international debut - another big concern for Spurs boss Harry Redknapp - although a dominant England performance for the first time since the wins over Croatia in World Cup qualifying was a welcome tonic for under-pressure boss Fabio Capello.

It was England’s first competitive encounter since their 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany in the last 16 of the World Cup and, while there were no jeers to welcome the home side to the pitch, there was the unusual sight of empty seats at the national stadium.

Capello only made four changes from the team that started that match but they seemed to make a difference to its shape and attitude.

John Terry and Frank Lampard were absent through injury, goalkeeper David James banished to the Championship with Bristol City and Matthew Upson recalled to the squad but not even on the bench.

Still, it seemed enough: Terry and Upson were maligned for their performances against the Germans, while the 40-year-old James was replaced by the increasingly authoritative Joe Hart.

Lampard was not overly missed either as Steven Gerrard took a move advanced role and Theo Walcott played as an auxiliary forward in a fluid formation that saw England switch between 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 4-5-1.

The start was bright as England attacked with the ball and pressed high up the pitch without it.

Defoe hit an early opener, smashing into the roof of the net from close range after Ashley Cole forced a good stop from Nikolay Mihailov, with the chance coming about from a mistake by right-back Stanislav Manolev and a super pass to Cole from a rejuvenated Rooney.

England were cooled by the strike and controlled the first half, although there was a narrow escape when Glen Johnson almost turned Ivelin Popov’s cross past Hart, who did well to save and brush off his team-mate’s error with a knowing smile.

Popov - denied a work permit for a move to Blackburn despite inferior players plying their trade at Premier League level - was Bulgaria’s brightest spark, skilful and quick but not helped by a rather negative approach from his team-mates: star winger Martin Petrov barely made it past halfway.

The tempo slowed as England conserved energy, although they did have chances before half-time.

A poor touch from Defoe denied him a clear run at goal on the break, James Milner saw a fizzing drive deflected wide by Ilian Stoyanov and Mihailov did well to save at the feet of Defoe after a clever short-corner routine saw Walcott drill in a dangerous low cross.

The second half saw Bulgaria start with serious intent, although the first main act was an audacious Rooney chip that Mihailov managed to tip over.

The visitors went close when Popov fired inches wide after a dreadful error from Dawson, who missed a simple header to let the forward in behind Phil Jagielka.

Within seconds poor Dawson was off in agony, twisting his knee awkwardly after an innocuous fall.

It was a sickening injury for the Spurs defender, who travelled to the World Cup but did not play.

England rallied and soon were 2-0 up. Bulgaria nearly scored on the break as Stanislav Angelov was denied by Hart following Gerrard’s loose pass, but the hosts showed them how to counter when, within 14 seconds, Defoe latched on to Rooney’s pass left to thread the ball through Mihailov’s legs with his left foot.

From that point on England were in total control, turning on the style and wowing the home fans with waves of attacks. Gerrard went close with a free-kick from wide and a long-range effort, from which Defoe was denied by Mihailov’s outstretched hand, while Adam Johnson curled one wide after superb build-up play from his team-mates.

They were leaving space though, highlighted when Hart made an outstanding star-shaped save to deny Dimitar Rangelov after Gary Cahill’s loose clearance gave the Bulgaria sub a one-on-one.

Eventually England added a third, Johnson drilling a low shot inside the near post of the culpable Mihailov after he was found by Rooney on the right.

Soon after it was four as Defoe got the first England hat-trick since Walcott’s against Croatia back in 2008, smashing a vicious finish with his so-called weaker left foot after Rooney found him on another rapid break.

Defoe picked up a knock while completing the finish, although he explained afterwards that he was taken off as a precaution.

England are back up and running and, after the media and fan roasting post World Cup, the next 13 months give them ample time to reassert themselves among Europe’s elite.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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