England cruised to a 4-0 victory over Slovakia yesterday, with Wayne Rooney in particularly exceptional form.
Fabio Capello’s experimentation with the left flank was a topic of much debate over recent games, but it appeared as though he finally had it cracked at a wet and windy Wembley. Employing a 4-4-2 shape, Capello put Steven Gerrard on the left of midfield with a completely free role when England were in possession, knowing the 28 year-old had the stamina to retreat to his position the moment his team lost the ball.
This, together with Wayne Rooney’s floating role behind the main striker, led to fantastic link-up between the two playmakers. Constantly swapping roles and popping up everywhere, the two combined to set up Emile Heskey in the 7th minute.
The first half created opportunity after opportunity for the three lions, but at a cost: Emile Heskey, and then his replacement Carlton Cole, had to be subbed off due to injury. The second half saw a very different looking England formation; even though the result was the same if not better. Ben Foster and David Beckham came on as expected, and Stewart Downing took Steven Gerrard’s berth on the left flank.
This lacked much of the creativity shown in the first 45, as Downing and Beckham stuck to the touchlines and England’s crossing game came out. The only problem seemed to be that Downing had forgotten how to cross.
The vibrant attacking flourishes we saw against Germany at the end of 2008 and disappeared and an unconfident, frustrated Downing was a ghost compared to his Middlesbrough best. Perhaps he has been given one chance too many?
One player who did live up to his club form, however, was Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, rated number 1 in the Castrol Performance Index (CPI). He was constantly looking to turn and run at players, whilst creating innovative chances for his team-mates. He got his reward after 70 minutes as David Beckham, on his 109th appearance for his country, placed a cross for Rooney to nod past the Slovakian goalkeeper.
England were in full control of the game, and the final two goals came with ease as Frank Lampard slotted the ball into the net on 82 and Rooney finished superbly from the Chelsea man’s cross with seconds to play.
There will be worries about the fitness of the England strikers – Peter Crouch also struggling with a knock – yet chances are that all three can be patched up over the next four days.
Let’s hope the nation can be positive about this result, the English love to complain, but this game showed little to moan about. We await Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier with baited breath.