Two-goal Cole digs~deep for England

Joe Cole stepped off the bench to spare England's blushes as plucky Andorra were beaten 2-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier in Barcelona.

Last Updated: 06/09/08 at 21:08 Post Comment

Cole: At the double for England

Cole: At the double for England

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Cole - the player Fabio Capello is reluctant to include in his starting line-up - again spared his blushes as the Three Lions finally overcame the part-time minnows in Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.

The Chelsea midfielder has not been in the first XI for the last four internationals but his contribution after coming on as a second-half substitute means he is in pole position to play against Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old had come off the bench to net a last-gasp equaliser in last month's final friendly international with the Czech Republic at Wembley Stadium.

But this was more crucial as two goals from the former West Ham player in the space of six minutes early in the second half eased the frustration of the players and supporters after an uninspiring first 45 minutes.

It was reminiscent of the way Steven Gerrard had almost single-handedly pulled England up by the boot laces after a similarly poor first-half display when the sides met in the same stadium 18 months ago.

There was an inevitability that England would eventually break through given that they almost entirely dominated possession from the first to the last whistle against opponents whose sole purpose was a damage limitation exercise.

But Capello will be aware England will have to play at a higher level when the qualification programme starts in earnest against Slaven Bilic's side, who ended their hopes of qualifying for the Euro 2008 finals.

Capello made four changes from the side held 2-2 at home by the Czechs, the most significant of which was to leave out David Beckham after starting him in the previous four friendlies.

Whether this is a major statement of intent for the future by Capello will only become clear if the Los Angeles Galaxy star, who came on as an 80th-minute substitute for Frank Lampard, is omitted for the Croatian showdown.

In the stadium where Linford Christie had won Olympic gold in the 100 metres in 1992, Capello introduced his own super sprinter down the right flank in Theo Walcott.

Walcott looked hungry and relishing his first England start - more than two years after being a shock inclusion in Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad for the 2006 World Cup finals - but he faded after a bright start.

The atmosphere among the 10,000 England fans at kick-off time was in sharp contrast to the negative vibes aimed at Steve McClaren and his players when the sides clashed in the same stadium 18 months ago in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

But this mood had changed before the interval and the players left the pitch to a crescendo of boos and cries of "what a load of rubbish" from the fans in the top tier of the one stand - and it needed Joe Cole to change that with his one-two blast.

For all their possession, England had only a couple of half-chances to show for their efforts and failed to produce a single on-target effort in the opening 45 minutes.

Walcott found Wayne Rooney, without an international goal for 11 months, in some space just inside the Andorran box and he would have been disappointed not to have at least hit the target as his left-footed drive flew over the bar.

Lampard reacted quickly on the edge of the Andorran penalty area and his well struck shot on the turn flew only a yard wide with goalkeeper Koldo scrambling across his goal-line.

But that was the sum of England's first-half threat despite having 81% of possession against a side who operated with Fernando Silva as their only striker.

Too often they were guilty of some woeful crossing into the Andorran box with Stewart Downing a major culprit.

It was no surprise that he was replaced by Cole for the second half with Capello also bringing on Emile Heskey in place of Jermain Defoe to partner Rooney.

Silva was yellow-carded for bringing down Glen Johnson - and from the free-kick by Lampard, England broke the deadlock after 49 minutes.

Joleon Lescott was first to react to the ball into the box by the Chelsea midfielder and, when it was turned back across the box, Cole was ideally placed to volley home in clinical fashion.

Six minutes later Cole struck for the second time. Gareth Barry and Rooney were involved in the build-up before the Chelsea man's first-time effort beat Koldo's dive.

The tension had been eased and Johnson thought he had added a third with a fierce low drive only for Cole to have strayed offside.

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