England 4-0 Bulgaria: Match Report
Defoe stars in routine win Jermain Defoe gave the surgeon's knife a
swerve and instead carved up Bulgaria with his first England hat-trick
as Fabio Capello's side eased to a 4-0 victory.
- England 4-0 Bulgaria: As it happened
Defoe put off a groin operation that threatened to rule him out of England's opening Euro 2012 qualifier and gained perfect reward in a deserved win that eased some of the pressure that has been building around Capello.
It took the striker's tally to 15 goals in 44 games. More importantly it moves England straight to the top of Group G. Another three points in Switzerland on Tuesday and the England boss can start to go about his work in some security again.
He will travel to Basle without Michael Dawson though after the Tottenham man suffered an awful-looking knee injury. However, after his World Cup trauma, Capello has started to make good decisions again. Aside from Defoe's obvious matchwinning contribution, Theo Walcott and Joe Hart were outstanding and James Milner looked far more comfortable on the left flank than he did in South Africa.
It will also have pleased him that a substitute, Adam Johnson, scored England's third goal and broke his own international duck on his third appearance. In claiming he has been built up into a god or a monster by the media, depending on results, Capello also knows his aura of infallibly has been stripped away. The brutal truth is that from now until such time as England are lining up for their opening match of the European Championships in either Poland or the Ukraine, every success will be met with some scepticism. Defoe scored after three minutes.
Of course, England scored with similar speed in their opening World Cup game against the United States. They didn't win it. The Three Lions played with verve and panache at times and thoroughly deserved their victory. Then again, they did that nine times in 10 qualifying games under Capello to reach the World Cup. What good did it do them thereafter? Questions will be asked at every turn.
We know Capello is a good coach. It will take him a long while to prove he is a good England coach. Still, while there are grounds for optimism, the Italian is perfectly entitled to stand on them. He may have selected seven of the side chiefly responsible for the debacle against Germany in Bloemfontein but there was a definite freshness about his team. Two of the four who had no part in the Germany match, Hart and Walcott, were among the better performers.
Frank Lampard and John Terry, who both pulled out through injury, and Rio Ferdinand, who was never in contention, were not missed at all. England could not have made a better start. Wayne Rooney's pass released Ashley Cole whose initial shot was parried by Nikolay Mihaylov. The Chelsea man was on to the rebound in a flash and when he turned it back for Defoe, the player who by rights should now be recovering from groin surgery provided an excellent first-time finish. Walcott's pace caused Bulgaria huge difficulties during a frantic English attacking display.
James Milner had a shot deflected wide and Defoe just failed to connect with a low Walcott cross. The only time England found themselves in trouble was their own fault, when Glen Johnson's attempt to turn Ivelin Popov's cross away for a corner instead threatened a horrendous own goal until Hart plunged across to his right to make a vital save. Rooney is still struggling to find his touch and at times looked well off the pace. But a sublime chip five minutes into the second half was a reminder of the talent he possesses and Mihaylov needed to make a fingertip save to deny the Manchester United man. Three direct assists are not to be sniffed at either, even if his international goal drought now extends to 11 games.
Dawson's horrible injury followed. Slow motion replays showed the defender's left knee buckling under him. As he was carried off in obvious pain, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that he will not be back on a football pitch again for some considerable time, which is heartbreaking for him, and devastating for Harry Redknapp given his opportunity to bring in a replacement ended three days ago.
There followed a pivotal 15 seconds, which started with an excellent Hart reaction save to repel Martin Petrov. England countered immediately and a flowing move involving Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard and Rooney ended with Defoe firing through Mihaylov's legs. Johnson's strike eased England further clear and paved the way for Defoe to complete his momentous three-timer four minutes from time. The Tottenham striker suffered some kind of twinge as he celebrated and was immediately replaced by Ashley Young. Capello was left to hope the recovery will be swift, and Defoe confirmed within minutes of the final whistle that he will be ready to face the Swiss.
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