England secure World Cup spot
09 Sep 2009 - 22:10:06
England will be in South Africa next summer after booking their place in the World Cup finals following an impressive 5-1 demolition of a disappointing Croatia side at Wembley.
Fabio Capello's side made it eight wins from as many qualifying games courtesy of goals from Frank Lampard (2), Steven Gerrard (2) and Wayne Rooney.
The performance was as good as anything the Three Lions have produced during an impressive qualifying campaign which has heightened expectations ahead of next summer's tournament.
England started the evening knowing that one point would be enough to confirm their passage as Group Six winners after Belarus had held Ukraine to a goalless draw in Minsk.
But Capello's side were always likely to pick up all three points after dominating an off-colour Croatia from the kick-off.
The visitors were missing key players like Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric, but it was at the back where they looked particularly suspect and Josip Simunic gave away the first goal with a clumsy tackle on seven minutes.
He brought down the flying Aaron Lennon and Lampard dispatched his first of the night from the penalty spot.
Lennon was proving a livewire after replacing Shaun Wright-Phillips in the only change from the side which defeated Slovenia 2-1 in a weekend friendly.
He cut the ball back for Gareth Barry to let fly with a 25-yard shot before picking out the late-arriving Gerrard and the Liverpool midfielder did the rest with a downward header back across goal to make it 2-0 on 18 minutes.
Lennon was denied a goal of his own when the keeper clawed away his chipped effort when one-on-one 15 minutes later.
Emile Heskey's goal drought continued when he was also denied by the keeper on the stroke of half-time with a third of the night on the cards.
Croatia made two changes at the start of the second half as coach Slaven Bilic looked to shock his lacklustre side into action.
However, they were 3-0 down after 59 minutes and soon after being denied a penalty of their own when Glen Johnson appeared to climb all over the back of Eduardo.
To rub salt into the wounds, it was Johnson's accurate cut-back which was headed home from 10 yards by Lampard.
Seven minutes later it was 4-0 and party time inside Wembley when Rooney's hopeful up-and-under was met by Gerrard and he picked out the top corner with an assured headed finish.
Capello looked less than impressed when his own high standards were not met as Eduardo poked home a consolation effort after the England defence failed to react to Robert Green's smart double save.
But all was forgiven on 77 minutes when Rooney profited from a goalkeeping howler to side-foot home the simplest of fifth goals after Vedran Runje has scuffed a simple clearance straight to the waiting striker.
The full-time whistle brought a huge roar from an excited Wembley crowd who know they will be watching a rampant Three Lions - with a 100 per cent qualifying record - in World Cup action next summer.