What a disappointment. What a shame for the baying press pack. England thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 in the opening game of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, and all those who have had the knives out for Fabio Capello since England’s dismal World Cup have had to quieten back down… for now.
A tepid first half gave England the narrowest of leads, 1-0, at the break, but Bulgaria had looked dangerous and nerves still jangled as Gerrard and Co. took to the field for the second half. Thankfully, a Rooney-inspired, Jermain Defoe hat-trick afforded England a comfortable victory and a highly satisfactory start to the campaign.
Two particular positives stood out from the game. Firstly, the little man – little man combination of Rooney and Defoe. We, in the U.K., tend to have a constant, nagging preference for strength over technique and height over nimbleness. The very thought of not fielding a tall, physical centre-forward sends many managers, naming no names, Sam Allardyce, into a cold sweat; after all, without a Heskey on the field, who else can we lump agricultural long balls up to when we run out of any creative ideas? The interplay between the lethal Defoe and the arch-creator, Rooney, was a delight to behold. Rooney played a major role in all of Defoe’s goals and the Tottenham striker, having taken his chances with aplomb, showed a certain maturity in playing his own selfless part in Adam Johnson’s coup de grace. As an aside, congratulations must go to Johnson on what was surely the first of many goals for his country.
The other particular positive gleaned from the match, was the assured composure of Joe Hart. On only his second start for England, the young Salopian did all that was asked of him, and more. He made impressive saves when called upon and showed excellent vision and precision in the choice and accuracy of his long kicks. Not since the days of David Seaman in the late ’90s has the No.. 1 spot seemed so deservedly held. Mistakes will inevitably come, they always do, but Joe Hart looks set for a long reign as king of the English keepers.
Despite his seemingly permanent indifference, I imagine that Capello suppressed a smug smile following his team’s win. While Bulgaria are hardly Europe’s sternest test, England looked much the better team, particularly in the second half, and posited an excellent and much needed result in the wake of an awful World Cup performance. The knives have been sheathed for now, but a slip-up tomorrow against Spain’s conquerors, Switzerland, would have them out again quicker than you can say ‘Arrivederci!’
Unfortunately for the oft-beleagured Capello, just as he starts a new campaign in a positive, forward-thinking fashion, one of his players, his star-player no less, appears again to have brought negative, harmful attention on himself and the England camp. This blog is about football and, as such, the whys, wherefores and moralising surrounding the alleged unseemly actions of Wayne Rooney are better off discussed elsewhere. For England and football in general, these allegations make painful reading; thousands of column inches will now be written questioning the pay, attitude, intelligence and morality of footballers after a recent spate of infidelity stories. While the more sanctimonious journalists will no doubt feast on the sensationalism of such news, one would hope that a victory in tomorrow night’s game will refocus the attention of the sporting media on matters taking place on the pitch.