England completed their qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Belarus at Wembley.
Crouch stakes claim, while Beckham issues reminderEngland completed their qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Belarus at Wembley on Wednesday night. Peter Crouch scored twice, with a Shaun Wright-Phillips goal sandwiched in between, to give the Three Lions a comfortable scoreline as they concluded Group 6 with three points. With World Cup qualification already secure, this was a chance for Fabio Capello to consider his options, to correct the mistakes from the weekend's away defeat to Ukraine, and, in the Italian's words, look at 'Plan B and Plan C'. The England manager promptly made six changes from the team that lost in Dnipropetrovsk, with fringe players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor and Wayne Bridge offered the opportunity to demonstrate their credentials. Capello's reshuffle appeared positive from kick-off, with Crouch opening the scoring on four minutes, however, England lost their way a little and what was meant to be a qualification party and tactical experiment appeared set to fall a little flat. Wright-Phillips, though, doubled the lead after half-time thanks to help from a cameo performance from substitute David Beckham, before Crouch grabbed his second to wrap up the win. First competitive starts were handed to Aston Villa striker Agbonlahor and Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster among half-a-dozen alterations from the side which had been beaten on Saturday. Goalkeeper Robert Green was suspended following his weekend red card, while injured duo Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard had returned to United and Liverpool, respectively. Rio Ferdinand was handed the chance to amend his mistake against Ukraine.
Prove a pointIt was, therefore, a trial line-up, but those players hoping to prove a point to Capello wasted little time in demonstrating ability to their international manager as Crouch opened the scoring with the national anthems only just complete. In the fourth minute Agbonlahor latched onto a pass down the inside-left channel from former Villa team-mate Gareth Barry to square and allow a sliding Crouch the opportunity to stick out one of his long legs and wrong foot goalkeeper Yury Zhevnov. England were cruising and Crouch, having extended his excellent international scoring record, was enjoying himself as he proved too tall and strong for Igor Shitov and Sergei Sosnovskiy when heading wide at a corner. Belarus, who spent time on Tuesday sightseeing in London and shopping on Oxford Street, were given an opportunity to catch their breath on 20 minutes as Zhevnov took an eight-count and an ice pack to the jaw following an accidental aerial collision with the unlikely figure of Wright-Phillips. The respite was short lived as immediately from the re-start Agbonlahor charged forward on the counter-attack, however, the Villa man's jet-heeled break proved too rapid for his team-mates and an optimistic shot was diverted for a corner. Agbonlahor's acceleration will have had Michael Owen, a spectator in the stadium having been invited to attend as one of the 55 players named in England squads by Capello, reminiscing about the good old days, but also fidgeting in his seat as hopes of a World Cup recall appear to dwindle. Glen Johnson was the next to lead an attack as the Liverpool full-back, whose defending has been questioned, demonstrated his attacking assets with a jinking run. Unfortunately for those in white his shot headed in the direction of the far touchline. Almost immediately, the mistakes for which Johnson has been maligned were evident around the half-hour mark as the right-back dawdled and allowed Maksim Bordachev to pounce before the Belarus man was crowded out.
CrunchJohnson's lapse marked the beginning of a wobble for Capello's troops as the team's previous blunders, which were analysed in depth following the defeat to Ukraine, began to emerge when passes went astray and tempo dropped. Belarus were tidy and composed in possession, and Foster was forced to show concentrated hands when gathering a daisy-cutting Sergei Omelyanmchuk free-kick as England continued to struggle on the verge of half-time. Capello will have had a few choice words at half-time. 'Plan B' had initially worked before faltering and it could have been time for 'Plan C', but the England manager resisted the urge to make changes during the interval. Frank Lampard warmed Zhevnov's palms with a free-kick at the beginning of the second half and shortly after Belarus, who had swapped Vitaly Kutuzov with Vitali Rodionov, had Sergei Kornilenko booked for crunching Wright-Phillips. To the delight of Wembley, Beckham was handed his 115th cap just before the hour mark as the strange test of playing Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon on opposing wings was brought to an end, with the latter, who will be safe in the knowledge that he has proved his ability in the past, making way. Beckham duly had an instant effect as he set Wright-Phillips in the direction of goal in the 59th minute, allowing the Manchester City wideman to cut in and shoot low past the weak handling of Zhevnov. A two-goal advantage eased anxiety among England's players but, shortly before the introduction of Carlton Cole in place of Agbonlahor, Foster was forced to produce an excellent save from a fizzed Omelyanmchuk effort. Crouch, though, made sure the Three Lions would not be the victims of any comeback as in the 76th minute he reacted the quickest after Zhevnov had palmed a powerful Cole shot. Bridge limped off with a slight groin strain, with James Milner entering the fray and hitting the post, while Beckham also struck an upright, as England comfortably finished their final competitive game before South Africa next summer.
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|7||Shots on Target||3|
|7||Shots off Target||1|