With the departure of Steve McLaren, Fabio Capello had a nation’s confidence to restore after the three lions failed to qualify for the European Cup for the first time in twenty four years. Not only did Capello restore the nations confidence in the side he also made the nation believe England can have success in a major competition such as the world cup after qualifying with two games remaining (the first time since the reign of Sir Bobby Robson in the 1990s).
The first game of England’s qualifying games was Andorra Vs England to be played at Estadio Comunal in Aixovall where Frank Lampard scored a double with assists from Wayne Rooney and Joleon Lescott. End Score 2-0
After a brilliant first victory, Capello’s men took on an inform Croatian side, who last time out won 3-0. Despite Theo Walcott scoring his first senor goal for England, the first half was very quiet. Whereas, during the second half Walcott came alive and put away two more and after an excellent all night performance Wayne Rooney put away one from a glowing pass from Jermaine Jenas but in the seventy eighth minute after only being on a substitute for five minutes Mario Mandzukic gave the home side a consolation goal just twelve minutes before the end. 4-1 End Score.
After becoming the first side to beat the Croatian side in Zagreb, England took on Kazakhstan in their first home game of the campaign and what a first it was! In the first half England dominated but the Three Lion’s many chances weren’t taken. However, an early second half chance by Frank Lampard lead to the surprising goal from defender Rio Ferdinand and minutes later Alexandr Kuchma put the ball in the back of his own net. England’s celebrations weren’t long lived though due sixty eight minute goal by Zhambyl Kukeyev which promoted Manchester United’s and England’s number ten Wayne Rooney to put away his second of the international season. In the seventy ninth minute history was made with David Beckham coming on as substitute for Theo Walcott which ment it was his hundred and six appearance equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s all time capped record. Shortly afterwards new young legend Wayne Rooney got his second of the night and England’s forth. Minutes later Rooney was treated to a well earned rest with the arrival of Jermaine Defoe. Despite Kazakhstan assuming that their languish was over, Defoe delivered another blow by scoring just before the whistle making it a dazzling 5-1 End Score.
With the Lions having an hundred percent record so far in the campaign, Capello’s men went to Minsk in high hopes for England’s first ever international against Belarus. In the first half an early goal from Steve Gerrard put the lions in front but only seventeen minutes later the newcomers came back with a stunning goal from Pavel Sitko which James couldn’t save. After the break, although Belarus pressed two fifty and seventy minute goals from Wayne Rooney lead Capello’s men to a fourth straight victory under the Italian Manager.
After three friendlies in Berlin, Seville and London against Germany, Spain and Slovakia, England Resumed their world cup qualifiers at home against Ukraine. In the first half there was end to end action with England only just being able to get one goal past Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, in the twenty ninth minute by Peter Crouch. In the second half the game was much of the same until just after the hour mark when Andrii Shevchenko put his Longley anticipated goal past James and put his side back in it. With Such a close game, the winning goal did not come before the eighty fifth minute with John Terry scoring from a corner. End score 2-1
With one of the lions hardest game over, Capello and his men looked forward to a trip to Almaty in Kazakhstan. Despite having a brilliant first half performance England did not put the ball past Alexandr Mokin until the dying moments of the first half with Garth Barry getting a goal in the fortieth minute and Emile Heskey in the forty fifth. With the Game lead, England went out looking stronger and stronger they were with first Wayne Rooney contributing one goal then minutes later frank Lampard stepping up to the spot and sealing the game with a fourth goal. End score 4-0.
In England’s last meeting with Andorra, the three lions beat the southern European team by two goals to nil so the team went into this fixture with confidence which later paid off with six goals. The first of the night was from on form Wayne Rooney who put one past Koldo Alvarez within four minutes of the game starting. Shortly afterwards, Frank Lampard scored England’s second from the spot and only ten minutes later was England’s hat trick by none other than young Manchester United star Wayne Rooney again, who scored his second and England’s third from a beautiful cross from Glen Johnson. Shortly after the second half whistle had gone, Wayne Rooney was substituted for Jermaine Defoe. The next goal was from England with a exemplary, goal from Jermaine Defoe who later got his second in the seventy fifth minute. Ten minutes before the final whistle Peter Crouch topped the score line off by giving Capello something to celebrate about by giving a sixth goal and beating Andorra 6-0.
After Returning from a two, two draw in the Neverlands against Holland, John Terry and co took on a very talented Croatian side who have been hit with many injuries but on paper this fixture wasn’t going to be easy and the three lions had an extra incentive because all England needed was a draw and then they defiantly would be going to south Africa next year. During the first the Croatian side defended brilliantly with only a Seven minute Penalty from Frank Lampard and an eighteen minute header by Steven Gerrard settling it. During the second half the lions came out feeling that they were in touching distance of the world cup which gave them more incentive to play well. It only took another fifth teen minutes for the next goal to come which came from Frank Lampard on the hour mark. With England’s hopes flying high, it only six minutes for the next goal which was a further header from Steven Gerrard. Although England had a four goal lead, their celebrations were cut short with Eduardo getting one back for the visitors. Following an Excellent all-night performance Wayne Rooney notched his first of the night when Vedran Runje took a goal kick which lead straight to the twenty three year old and Rooney put the ball in the back of the net.
With England already securing qualification, Capello and his men went into their hardest game of the season with confidence. The three lions started well with many attempts on goal until the thirteenth minute when Rio Ferdinand mistakenly let Yaroslavl Rakytsky past him and Robert Green Caught him late resulting in Greens dismissal and a penalty for Ukraine. Once Green was dismissed Capello decided to replace Aaron Lennon for David James for the penalty. With James’s first job in goal to save a penalty the pressure was on for him but to the lions luck Andriy Shevchenko sent James the wrong way but the ball hit the bar and went out for a goal kick. After the dismissal of Green the game was very quiet with Ukraine getting most of the chances including in the twenty ninth minute with extraordinary goal by Sergiy Nazarenko. Despite England having many chances in the second half none of them were used and Capello’s and England’s record received their first loss of the season.
With qualifying in the bag, Capello decided to give some non regulars a chance by starting: Ben Foster, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Peter Crouch. For Foster it was a very quite night with him only having to make one substantial save in the whole ninety minutes. It only took four minutes for England to get a goal; a beautiful run for Gabriel Agbonlahor down the left wing gave the home side the lead with peter crouch putting one past Yuri Zhevnov. The rest of the first half was dominated by England with only a few chances for Belarus to try attack. The next goal was on the hour mark when Shaun Wright-Philips made an excellent run which turned into a brilliant goal. With only quarter of an hour left, Peter Crouch thought he would finish the Belarus side off with England’s hat trick and his second making a brilliant campaign come to an end with a brilliant match.
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(c) Oliver McGrath
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