England 3 – 0 Belarus
Earlier in the week Frank Lampard had lamented the absence of the ‘effervescent presence’ of Wayne Rooney but it was the ever-reliable Peter Crouch who stole the headlines against Belarus.
Last Saturday saw England suffer their first defeat of the qualifying campaign against Ukraine at the Dnipro Arena. Nazarenko’s 29th minute strike was sufficient for the Ukrainians to dispose of an unbeaten Three Lions team.
The absence of Rooney and Steven Gerrard ensured that Fabio Capello reverted from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation instead choosing a more orthodox 4-4-2.
Peter Crouch and Gabriel Agbonlahor were unveiled as England’s latest strike partnership. Wayne Bridge was selected at left back which served as a gentle reminder from Capello to Ashley Cole that nobody’s place is assured for South Africa.
Belarus came to Wembley ready to produce a performance under their glaring cameras under the famous arch. Any illusions of an unlikely victory were shattered within three minutes after kick-off.
Gareth Barry’s superb ball unleashed Agbonlahor on the left wing. The Aston Villa front man easily soared past his marker. His low cross was guided into the gaping net by Crouch.
It effectively killed the game as a legitimate contest, but England did allow Belarus to enjoy some spells of possession.
The home side threatened continuously throughout the first half.
Agbonlahor had a right-footed effort well saved by Zhevnov. Moments later, the away keeper was in action again when he denied Barry’s header from a Frank Lampard cross.
Belarus did threaten shortly before half time. Ben Foster was forced to save a Omelyanchuk attempt, which amounted to the visitors’ only real chance of any significance in the first half.
The game began to fall into a deeper lull after the break before the introduction of England veteran David Beckham. The LA Galaxy midfielder injected renewed impetus into the home side’s play in addition to stirring the placid crowd to life.
Within two minutes of his introduction Capello’s team extended their advantage. Beckham’s corner found Sean Wright-Phillips outside the box.
The Manchester City winger dipped past one defender and drilled a low shot past the despairing Zhevnov.
Carlton Cole replaced Agbonlahor and his muscular frame caused the Belarusian defenders numerous problems.
His shot from the right side of the box was kept out by the visiting keeper. However, Zhevnov was left hapless in preventing England from scoring a third and final goal of the night.
Cole’s shot was beaten away by the Belarus number one but only into the path of Crouch. The Spurs striker was left with an easy finish to make it a remarkable 18 goals in 17 appearances.
The 3-0 victory ensured England finished on 27 points from a possible 30, with the away defeat against Ukraine the only black mark on an otherwise flawless qualifying campaign for Capello and his men.
The next test for England will be a friendly against Brazil on Nov. 14.