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Defoe inspires new-look England to opening Wembley win

September 4, 2010

Jermain Defoe is presented with the matchball by the referee

At half time in England’s opening European qualifier of the summer against Bulgaria, the title to this article read “old habits die hard”. What a difference 45 minutes can make. The pre-match feeling was one of nerves, anxiety, apprehension. All the better then that Jermain Defoe’s opener should come so early in the game, just 3 minutes in, to settle down the players, the under-pressure manager, and the expectant supporters.

England’s abysmal World Cup no-show made this match even more important. Not only to help those hurting fans forget the awful memories of South Africa 2010, but also prove a point. Prove a point that this group of players are as good as their reputations suggest they are and prove the point that they really can play football together.

The opening 20 minutes were impressive. A bustling start, which displayed some bright movement and slick one and two-touch passing, and a start that also produced a very good goal just minutes in. Ashley Cole had made a lung-bursting run into the opposition penalty area, a run that Wayne Rooney picked out with a delicious little chip over the top of the Bulgarian defence. Cole’s initial effort on goal was blocked by goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov, but his second touch laid the ball into the path of Defoe, who clinically volleyed into the roof of the net. Just the remedy for all the pain England experienced at the World Cup.

After such a positive start, the old England seemed to have flowed back into the player’s system as they went rather flat, and failed to produce much in the way of chances and free-flowing football. It was slow and turgid right up until half time which got the majority of supporters at Wembley biting their fingernails once again. Whilst we were 1-0 up, there’s always that danger with England that one defensive lapse will let the opposition in and we’ll be back to square one.

Fortunately, this was a new England. A re-invigorated, confident England who came out after the interval and did what every England fan was praying they would do; play football and finish Bulgaria off. It may have taken until just past the hour mark for the lead to be doubled, and the visitors may have had a couple of chances themselves, but it was always coming. The counter-attack was always on and Wayne Rooney was on hand for a second time to slip in Jermain Defoe directly this time. The rest, they say, is history. 2 for Defoe, 2-0 England, and cruising to an opening victory.

Adam Johnson entered the scene with 20 minutes remaining, and was to have an immediate impact. Johnson is in the squad for his skill and trickery, as well as his ability to cause even the best defenders some pretty strong problems. Playing in arguably his best position – wide on the right – Johnson’s tendency to cut inside and use that powerful left foot to full effect proved very beneficial to England on this occasion. He had his sighter shortly after coming on, as he cut inside off the right and attempted to curl a shot round ‘keeper Mihaylov. The ball flew wide of the post but the threat was there.

Indeed, not 5 minutes later, Johnson performed the same skill, only with a different outcome. As he cut inside Bulgaria’s left full-back for a second time. This time his powerful effort was well-directed and too hot for Mihaylov to keep out. The ex-Liverpool custodian may have done better, but Johnson wasn’t about to hang around to complain. A first International goal for the Manchester City youngster was greeted by great joy, both by him and his teammates.

The scoring wasn’t done yet, as another incisive England breakaway saw Rooney slip in Defoe again to make it 4-0, and for Defoe to complete a fantastic hat-trick. That’s 12 goals under Fabio Capello for the Tottenham forward now, and 15 in total for England. It’s a very impressive record, and one that goes a long way to proving that anyone who had any doubts over Defoe’s ability was indeed very mistaken. A slight ankle injury, picked up in the process of scoring that third goal, may have been enough to force Defoe off with 4 minutes to go, but it won’t be enough to dampen his spirits on an all-round impressive display from England.

How they ranked

Joe Hart8.5/10 – England haven’t had a goalkeeper as cool, calm, collected and confident as Joe Hart in a very long time. He is the classic ‘old head on young shoulders’ and anyone who believed that the 23-year old should have been England’s no.1 at the World Cup this summer may well have been vindicated in this match. I for one believe that he is the best goalkeeper in British football. His calm, care-free persona rubs off on his football, and his reliability and efficiency between the sticks is the stuff central defenders dream about. His shot-stopping is second-to-none, and his handling from crosses is flawless. Gone are the days of Calamity James and Rubbish Robinson. Joe Hart is the future of English goalkeeping.

Glen Johnson3/10 – It’s been rather a long time since we saw Glen Johnson put in an outstanding shift at right-back for England. For Liverpool, his performances are good. For England, questions need to be put forward. He’s long been regarded as an excellent attacking full-back, with doubts posed over his defensive capabilities. However, after this showing, I believe that both sides of his game need improvements. He gave the ball away far too often and in dangerous areas of the pitch. He was caught out of position on a number of occasions, which against a player of Martin Petrov’s ability and speed is footballing suicide. Indeed, Bulgaria’s best chances came about from poor positioning on Johnson’s part, and against a better side, he may have been punished. A lack of depth in that particular position may be the saviour for Johnson, whose days would be numbered if there was an apt replacement waiting in the wings.

Ashley Cole7/10 – Ashley Cole has slowly established himself as Mr. Reliable on the left side of defence. One of England’s most consistent performers, Cole adds a cool head and a very good footballing brain to the side, and whilst everybody in the country can think of many a better man, his reputation as the best left-back in the world is undisputed. His attacking runs often produce chances, and as we saw in this game, enabled Jermain Defoe to open the scoring. He is also very assured in possession, even in his final third, and seldom panics. It was just another regular day at the office for Cole, who is proving to be a very important cog in the England system these days.

Phil Jagielka7/10 – John Terry’s replacement, Phil Jagielka did a sterling job in the heart of the defence. Whilst he wasn’t tested by any great class, say a Berbatov who has of course called time on his International career, Jagielka did what he was expected to do. His last-ditch tackle on Valeri Bojinov displayed his pace, and commitment, and his ability in the air is also rather impressive. With Rio Ferdinand on the mend, and John Terry expected to be back soon, Jagielka has done all he can to keep his place in future squads, but the real test is yet to come. Wait until he comes up against a Villa or a Torres, and then we’ll see what he’s made of. A positive start for the Everton man.

Michael Dawson6/10 – Michael Dawson had a quiet game by his standards, but what he had to do he did with minimal fuss. However, it won’t be his performance that will make the news tomorrow. A horrible knee injury forced the Tottenham man off just before the hour mark, and with Tottenham about to embark on an exciting Champions League campaign, Harry Redknapp will be praying that the injury is not as serious as first feared. However, Dawson was visibly in agony, and the need for a stretcher and a length delay suggests that Redknapp may not be so lucky. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Theo Walcott5/10 – After a fantastic start to the Premier League season with Arsenal, it was always going to be hard for Theo Walcott to satisfy the fans in the white of England. We were expectant, and excited to see Walcott strut his stuff, but Bulgaria wasn’t to be his night. There were a couple of occasions when he ran at the left-back with pace and trickery, but they were few and far between. Nonetheless, we can’t expect him to perform every time he walks out onto the Wembley turf, and I’m sure later down the line, Walcott will have a massive part to play.

James Milner7/10 – Employed on the left side of midfield for this game after all the talk had been about a role through the centre. A quiet first half for Milner as he tried to stamp his mark on the game. However, as the second half opened up and England started to gain more control, Milner too got into his stride. Some mazy runs and confident passing saw him cause the Bulgarian right-back plenty of problems, and Stanislav Manolev was perhaps a touch fortunate to stay on the pitch after what seemed to be a high elbow on Manchester City’s newest recruit. Milner also played a firm hand in a couple of the goals, and should be pleased with his overall performance. Having endured his fair share of what I believe to be unjust criticism after South Africa 2010, Milner seems to be growing with stature with every game he plays for club and country, and he will only get better. A must for Capello throughout qualification.

Steven Gerrard – 6/10 – It was a comfortable evening for Steven Gerrard who didn’t have a bad game, but didn’t excel either. His forward running opened up the space for Wayne Rooney and Gareth Barry to operate in, and he appeared regularly when England had the ball inside the final third. As Andy Townsend stated on ITV commentary, Gerrard actually ended up doing the bulk of Gareth Barry’s work, which prompts the question; what is Gareth Barry doing in the side?

Gareth Barry – 4/10 – What exactly is Gareth Barry doing in the side? For 60 minutes of this game he was non-existent. He is supposed to be the ‘shield’ in front of the back four, but from what I saw in this performance, England may as well have been playing with 10 men. He went through the entire second half without being noticed, and even when he had the ball, he was relatively sloppy and not in the least bit productive. Fabio Capello will doubtless stick with him when Frank Lampard returns, which ultimately will see Gerrard move out to the left again. It’s a tragedy, but that’s how Fab sees it. Surely Gareth Barry can’t continue with performances like these? Or can he?

Wayne Rooney – 7/10 – All eyes were on Wayne Rooney to see if he could finally end his 9-match goal drought for England, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, he produced a performance that will bring half a smile to the faces of England supporters, who witnessed the Manchester United man lay on 3 goals and play a major part in the other. On occasions he dropped far too deep, but on others he dropped into the space and filled the gaps superbly. His link-up play was excellent and he gave 100%, as Rooney always does. The only thing missing? A goal. He came within inches of breaking his barren spell with a beautiful chip that had the goalkeeper scrambling back to make an excellent save. It’ll come Roo.

Jermain Defoe 9.5/10 – Anybody who had doubts over Jermain Defoe’s ability to score goals at International level, put your hands up now. Ever since this guy made his professional introduction for West Ham United and Bournemouth nearly a decade ago, he’s been banging in the goals. The song ‘feed Jermain, feed Jermain, feed Jermain and he will score’ says it all. 3 chances, 3 goals, and that’s what Defoe does. His movement was supreme, his general off-the-ball intelligence was wonderful, and his ability to strike the back of the net is better than anyone’s in British football. There is no one better at the role Defoe plays, and to think Capello was unsure over whether to play him or not in previous matches is unthinkable. An almost perfect performance from Jermain Defoe, and if anyone ever wants to see how a striker should play football, just watch a video of this guy. He’s got it all.

Moving forward
Switzerland is next on the agenda, and it’s a game England should not take lightly. The Swiss defeated the world champions in South Africa remember, and they are a notoriously tricky side to break down, mainly thanks to the defensive approach of German manager Ottmar Hitzfeld. For England to be victorious in Basel on Tuesday, they’ve got to be plucky, patient and on-guard against the Swiss counter-attack. Expect some dull football in stages, but a battling performance from the England boys. – Check out my website for lots of football and cricket gossip, and opinion!

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