Wayne Rooney ended his England goal drought as he helped fire England to a 3-1 victory over Switzerland in Basle.
The England striker continued his exceptional form from Friday’s game with Bulgaria and emphatically answered questions about his mental state following revelations about his private life.
Rooney registered assists for all England’s four goals in the win over Bulgaria on Friday night and last night he was equally impressive, playing a big part in England’s second. However, it will be his goal which will undoubtedly settle some nerves, having gone twelve months without a goal in a full international for his country before his tenth minute strike.
On a night where Rooney grabbed all the headlines and media attention, both good and bad, the supporting cast were equally assured and the confidence was clear to see with England dominating the early exchanges.
England were rewarded after just ten minutes when Glen Johnson’s low cross was slammed home from close range by Rooney. Unfortunately, Theo Walcott was injured while attempting to reach Johnson’s cross himself, and he was stretchered off to be replaced by Adam Johnson.
And it was the substitute who almost helped England to a second. An outstanding piece of skill allowed him to turn his marker, but his pull-back was blasted well over the bar by Jermaine Defoe.
Friday’s hat-trick hero seemed out of sorts, and was guilty of another miss, firing well off target following a lofted pass from skipper Steven Gerrard.
England continued to press, but the first half left Defoe frustrated as he was inches from a driven cross from Milner, before a pull back from Ashley Cole fell just behind him.
The England full-backs and wingers continued to cause the Swiss full-backs no end of trouble, and any danger inevitably came from the flanks. Adam Johnson looked calm and collected, a natural on the international scene, and he troubled Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio with a low drive from outside the box. The keeper tipped the ball wide, making a terrific low stop, but he was to have to respite.
Just before half time, Rooney rounded Benaglio and chipped a cross into the box. Defoe was this time denied by an outstanding defensive header, taking the ball away from him just as it seemed certain he would extend England’s lead.
When they went in at the break, Fabio Capello would have been extremely satisfied with what he saw. However, England’s failure to put Switzerland away would have been a concern and were England more clinical in their finishing, the game could have been put to bed by the half hour mark.
The new-look backline of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott looked untroubled and comfortable in possession. They were solid throughout, and will have given Capello a big lift in the absence of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. Calm, collected, and at ease, the defensive pairing helped to instill confidence in the rest of the team with their assured performances.
England did not let up after the break either. Despite a couple of shaky moments for keeper Joe Hart, they were comfortable overall and continued to keep the ball well. Switzerland were thoroughly outplayed, and their frustrations became evident when Stephan Lichtsteiner was booked for dissent.
The booking proved costly when Lichtsteiner was judged to have fouled Milner as he raced towards goal; replays suggest that the full-back may have taken the ball and the Swiss were understandably unhappy with the decision.
England took full control five minutes later, making the most of their man advantage. Rooney found Gerrard, who on an otherwise quiet night, played a delightful pass through the defence to the onrushing Adam Johnson. The winger confidently skipped around Benaglio, placing the ball into the empty net to double the English advantage.
They may have thought it was time to relax, but were stunned when substitute Xherdan Shaqiri hammered home an unstoppable drive into the top corner of Hart’s goal. It was an exceptional finish from the highly-rated youngster, cutting inside before unleashing a bending shot from outside the box. Hart had no chance and it ensured a nervy last 20 minutes for an England team who had looked comfortable throughout.
Switzerland struggled to fashion any more chances though, and the game should have been put to bed with five minutes left. Shaun Wright-Phillips, surprisingly brought on for Rooney, was clear through on goal and needed to complete the simplest of passes to an unmarked Darren Bent in the area to secure the win.
Wright-Phillips’ eventual pass was woefully under-hit and easily intercepted, keeping the Swiss in with a chance of snatching a draw. The Manchester City winger did nothing to enhance his chances of securing a place in the next England squad, again squandering a good opportunity to loft a cross straight into the arms of Benaglio when he had two unmarked strikers to aim for.
He is certainly a candidate to lose his place in the squad now and on this evidence, it would not be unwarranted.
Fortunately, Ashley Cole made no mistake moments later, sliding a perfect pass through to Bent, who beat the keeper at his near post to secure England’s win. Bent’s first England goal will undoubtedly give him a timely confidence boost, as he looks to establish himself in the Capello’s future plans.
England were impressive all-across the field, rarely troubled by a team who beat world champions Spain in the World Cup in June. It must be said that the Swiss also lost to Chile, and drew with Paraguay, during the competition though, and it was surprising that they did not provide England with a sterner test, particular while they had home advantage.
A good win against a solid side like Switzerland is no easy feat, but a match against one of the top 15 nations is a world apart from the quality of opposition England faced tonight.
However, it should take nothing away from a thoroughly professional job by England. Rooney, despite his ongoing marital issues, was outstanding, and demonstrated how vital it is for Capello to have an in-form Rooney; when the Manchester United striker does not perform, neither does England. He would be pleased with his evening’s work, but can now focus on returning home to save his marriage before a weekend visit to his old club, Everton.
Both issues are likely to cause more problems that dealing with the Swiss defence.
Capello will also be delighted with his wingers’ performances. Milner and Adam Johnson were brilliant, and Johnson definitely showed that he has the ability to replace Walcott permanently in the England side. The young winger has performed in all his international outings and looks to be the real deal. His continued development now looks to be vital to any future success.
Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole were both great going forward too, but relatively untroubled defensively, where they are questioned most often.
In the heart of the defence, Jagielka and Lescott were outstanding and dealt with any danger efficiently. They provided a solid defensive line for Capello, and now the boss must consider whether he can thrust the injured Rio Ferdinand and John Terry immediately back into the starting line up.
Defoe and Gerrard were uncharacteristically quiet, but did nothing to worry about. Gareth Barry was strong in midfield and put an end to questions surrounding his international ability for now, but the real concern will be when he comes up against a faster opposition.
Fabio Capello will be delighted with his team’s performance and win. Maximum points from his first two games, including a stern test in Basle, means England already look good for qualification. A potentially tricky visit to Montenegro now seems the only obstacle as the Three Lions head towards Euro 2012.
The only dampener on the evening is the knowledge that England usually qualify comfortably for the major international competitions (2008 aside). When they reach the World Cup or European Championships, it quickly becomes a different story—it would be irresponsible to forget this summer’s debacle so soon and get carried away with what was essentially a good win over average opposition.
However, the performance did much to lift the pessimistic mood surrounding the national team in England. Sadly, Lichtenstein could not hold on against Scotland; the evening would have been even sweeter then.
Teams and Ratings
Switzerland: Benaglio (7), Lichtsteiner (4), Grichting (6), von Bergen (5), Ziegler (5), Margairaz (5), Inler (5), Schwegler (5), Degen (5), Derdiyok (5), Frei (5).
Substitutes: Shaqiri for Margairaz (7), Streller for Degen (6), Costanzo for Schwegler (5)
England: Hart (6), G. Johnson (7), Jagielka (7), Lescott (7), Cole (7), Walcott (5), Gerrard (6), Barry (7), Milner (8), Rooney (8), Defoe (6).
Substitutes: A. Johnson for Walcott (9), Bent for Defoe (7), Wright-Phillips for Rooney (4).
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy), 6 – Good game, but may have made a mistake with Lichtsteiner’s second yellow.
Man of the Match: Adam Johnson (England)