England enjoy Bulgaria cruise

Wayne Rooney scored twice as England took a significant stride towards Euro 2012 with an impressive 3-0 hammering of Bulgaria in Sofia.

Last Updated: 02/09/11 at 22:32 Post Comment

Rooney: Celebrates his first goal

Rooney: Celebrates his first goal

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A decade after that memorable 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, Fabio Capello's men could not quite come up with a repeat performance.

Nevertheless, their hosts had no answer to a three-goal first-half salvo that means four points from their final two games will book England a ticket to next summer's Finals in Poland and Ukraine.

And Rooney will approach Tuesday's Wembley meeting with Wales in fine fettle, grabbing a brace after Gary Cahill's well-taken opener to end a barren run that had brought him just one goal in his previous 15 appearances prior to kick-off.

After digesting the news that he was being omitted from a competitive England starting line-up for the first time since he spent all but 10 minutes of a sickening defeat in Russia on the bench nearly four years ago, by half-time Frank Lampard must have been wondering if he would ever play for his country again.

Capello rarely has a fully fit group of players to select from.

However, with Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard missing, the obvious conclusion from the Italian's starting line-up, which paired Gareth Barry with Scott Parker in central midfield, is that Lampard's place in the squad can no longer be guaranteed, let alone the team.

Initially at least, there might have been some relief for the Chelsea man in being excused having to perform on a horror of a pitch, complete with large patches of clover and a copious amount of stones.

Yet, after a tricky start, it quickly became apparent such inconveniences would be trifling to the visitors.

Cahill had endured a difficult build-up.

After spending the entire summer being written about as though a move away from Bolton was a fait accompli, the 25-year-old discovered at the end of deadline day he would be staying at the Reebok Stadium after all, with both Arsenal and Tottenham failing to come up with the cash that would take him to a status even Trotters boss Owen Coyle feels he deserves.

He was excellent here. And the manner of his first international goal, chesting down Barry's astute chip over a static home defence before nudging the ball past on-rushing keeper Nikolay Mihaylov, justified his selection ahead of Manchester United rookie Phil Jones.

Even though it was only Cahill's fourth cap - and his first competitive start - Chris Smalling's shaky debut display at full-back showed why Capello was not willing to start the match with two players of such inexperience in his defence.

After that it turned into the Rooney show.

Twelve months ago, the brilliant striker was in the middle of a 12-month dip in form which it seemed he would never get out of.

Now it is as though it did not happen.

Rooney's confidence even extends to open discussion about his £30,000 hair transplant, which if nothing else provided a talking point as the striker rose above John Terry at the far post to power home Stewart Downing's 21st-minute corner.

From his seat in the stand, Dimitar Berbatov's thoughts would have been interesting, having so far rejected repeated requests from coach Lothar Matthaus to come out of retirement.

His status in these parts is such that a huge line of supporters queued patiently for his autograph at half-time, their interest in the game having dropped still further due to Rooney's second moments earlier.

Offered a rare chance to burst forward, Theo Walcott tore into a huge empty space, rolled a pass to Ashley Young, whose low cross presented Rooney with a tap-in.

Five days after scoring a hat-trick against Arsenal, Rooney had moved up to joint eighth on the all-time England scorers list, amongst those just above, Nat Lofthouse, the last Bolton player to score for the Three Lions, until Cahill, way back in 1959.

It was the eighth time Rooney had scored twice in a game, yet he still awaits his first hat-trick from a 28-goal haul.

The goal turned the second half into an extended training session ahead of Tuesday's Wembley showdown with Wales, when victory would take England to the brink of qualification without actually being able to book a place in next summer's finals.

Downing almost bagged a fourth when he floated Walcott's cross against the far post.

Walcott then fired wide after being set free by Rooney.

It was a minor quibble on a night when nearly everything went right for Capello, even to the extent of Craig Bellamy getting himself booked in Cardiff, thereby ensuring he will not be able to bother him next week.

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