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England v Bulgaria

3 Sep 2010 - 8:00 PM

England made the perfect start to their European Championship qualification campaign on Friday evening, when a Jerman Defoe hat-trick and an Adam Johnson strike proved enough to see off a stubborn Bulgaria team at Wembley.

With a trip to face Switzerland to come on Tuesday, it was important for Fabio Capello’s team to get off to a winning start and a predatory Defoe finish in the early stages settled the nerves before a second half double for the Spurs man and a late salvo from substitute Johnson finished the job.

Bulgaria had their chances too, particularly when England only held a single goal lead but in terms of possession, England were always superior.

The Three Lions will now head out to Basel on Monday knowing that with three points in the bag and a healthy goal difference to their name, they have an opportunity to try and take an early stranglehold on Group G.

They got off to the perfect start and were ahead within three minutes. Wayne Rooney was the architect as he cleverly reversed a chip into the path of the onrushing Ashley Cole in the box. Bulgarian ‘keeper Nikolay Mihaylov was out quickly to half-block his initial effort, but Cole quickly reacted to the loose ball and picked out Defoe in the six yard box and he made no mistake by emphatically smashing home into the roof of the net.

There was almost a disaster for England, and Glen Johnson, in particular in the 20th minute when he tried to knock Chavdar Yankov’s pacy centre behind the goal to safety. He mis-judged it though and was just fortunate that Joe Hart was alert enough to make a fine stop on the goal-line to deny what would’ve been a horrific own goal.

Bulgaria were gradually finding their way into the game and it took a terrific challenge from Phil Jagielka in the area to tackle Valeri Bojinov, just as he was about to shoot at goal.

After the early flurry, the game certainly settled down with few chances of note at either end although with half-time approaching, James Milner saw a shot diverted wide of the target after cutting in from the left.

Four minutes after the break, it was Rooney’s turn to try his luck when the Bulgarian defence seemed to part in front of him. With Mihaylov slightly off his line, the Manchester United man tried to chip the ball home but the ‘keeper scampered back in time to tip the ball over the bar.

Within moments, Bulgaria themselves had an even better chance when Yankov placed a pass into the path of Ivelin Popov, who had raced into the box from the left. All he had to do was poke the ball past Hart and they were surely level, but his effort went a yard wide of the far post.

England were then forced into making a substitution just ten minutes after the re-start, when Michael Dawson appeared to fall awkwardly and twist his knee in the process. It was immediately clear he was in no state to continue and Capello had debutant Gary Cahill ready to replace him within seconds of the incident.

If the importance of a goalkeeper needed to be even further illustrated, then that happened on the hour mark. With Bulgaria increasingly in the ascendancy, Martin Petrov broke clear on the left. He pulled a ball back for Stanislav Angelov, but the midfielder’s shot was punched away by Hart on the goal-line. Immediately, England were on the counter attack and when Barry picked out Rooney, he slipped a first time pass to Defoe and the striker was through on goal. With just Mihaylov to beat, he made no mistake and tucked a low left-footer into the far corner.

Hart then made another fine save five minutes later, when the ball dropped to substitute Dimitar Rangelov in the area. He had the full goal to aim at, but Hart was out quickly and saved with his chest. It fell outside the area to captain Stiliyan Petrov, but his well struck shot was bravely blocked and diverted over the bar by Cahill. That seemed to take the steam out of Bulgaria and their spirit looked pierced.

Skipper Steven Gerrard then tested his former Anfield team-mate Mihaylov with a stinging shot from 25 yards. The ball bounced off Mihaylov and with Defoe lurking, he looked certain to score but the Bulgarian somehow stretched a hand out and turned the ball away from danger at the last moment.

With the game in the last ten minutes and Bulgaria clearly tiring and disillusioned, England took advantage. Rooney was again the creator, when he slid a pass to Adam Johnson on the right. The substitute brought the ball inside before arrowing a low left-footer at goal which beat Miyalov courtesy of a slight deflection to register his first goal for England.

England weren’t finished there and Defoe had time to complete his treble three minutes later when Rooney was again on hand to send a slide-rule pass into the area for him. The Spurs man was again clinical, firing a shot past Mihaylov and into the far corner but also appeared to pick up some sort of tweak in the process. He was duly replaced by Ashley Young and received a standing ovation for his duty.

There will certainly be tougher tests for Capello’s Lions over the coming months, but for an opening match to a new campaign, the camp will undoubtedly be pleased with their night’s work here.

Now onto Switzerland…

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