Bulgaria 0-3 England: Why the Three Lions Proved Their Worth as World No. 4
On a tough pitch in a hostile atmosphere, England looked very impressive as they strolled to a 3-0 win against Bulgaria in their Group G Euro 2012 qualifier and proved their worth as the fourth best team in the world.
The win leaves the Three Lions within touching distance of a place in the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine, with a victory against Wales at Wembley on Tuesday effectively sealing their spot in the tournament.
Here's how England validated their place in the FIFA World Rankings through their convincing display in Sofia.
Dominance Away from Home
From start to finish in Bulgaria, England looked in complete control over their opponents.
And that's not an easy thing to do away from home, on a pitch much more suited to the home side, against a team much better than their ranking as 51st in the world, and who prior to Euro 2012 qualifying had not lost at home in over five years.
The Three Lions were dominant all over the park, creating more chances, having more possession and winning more tackles than The Tricolors (Bulgaria's nickname).
Chris Smalling looked untroubled on his England debut, while the likes of Scott Parker, Stewart Downing and Theo Walcott all delivered after being given a chance to shine.
Pass Success Rate
Speaking of the un-carpet-like pitch and England's dominance, the away side's pass success rate also gave an indicator of how well they played.
Despite the stifling conditions, the Three Lions had a pass success rate of 80.3 percent compared to the home side's 78.9 percent.
It may not seem much better, but considering England had 53.6 percent possession, three more shots on target, twice as many corners, conceded half as many fouls and scored three more goals, it shows how England's slick passing, despite the pitch conditions and being away from home, played their opponent off the park.
England manager Fabio Capello decided to give his team more backbone against Bulgaria and effectively played a double pivot with Scott Parker and Gareth Barry as the holding midfielders.
This helped the Three Lions become a much stronger unit defensively, backed up by the fact Joe Hart and his back four kept a clean sheet.
Thanks to Parker and Barry, England's full-backs Chris Smalling and Ashley Cole were allowed to attack more without risking the defence, allowing the team to become more dominant at the back and going forward.
Bulgaria had fewer efforts on goal and could only manage two on target out of seven, as England won more than double the amount of tackles than the home side and dominated the midfield battle.
It was a big improvement from England's recent games, where they conceded two at home to Switzerland in the 2-2 draw at Wembley, and could only manage a 1-1 in a friendly with Ghana.
With the likes of Scott Parker, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill establishing themselves as mainstays in the England side, the Three Lions seem to have a newfound depth in their talent pool.
Fabio Capello's men coped with no problem without the experienced old guard of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and to some extent Frank Lampard, while other established regulars like Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and recently Jack Wilshere also weren't missed.
It shows the strength in depth this England side now seem to possess, with the likes of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley at Manchester United, Jordan Henderson at Liverpool and Matt Jarvis at Wolverhampton Wanderers all challenging for a place in the team and threatening the places of the senior players.
And if Owen Hargreaves at Manchester City can get himself back to the level he was at before his injuries, i.e. as one of the best midfielders in Europe, then even better for the Three Lions.
Sides Below England Weren't Very Convincing
All the sides directly below England in the FIFA World Rankings didn't seem to stand out as much as the Three Lions in the international round of fixtures on Friday.
Seventh-placed Italy made incredibly hard work of the Faroe Islands as they won just 1-0 against a team ranked 104 places below them, while Uruguay and Argentina also made hard work of their narrow wins against Venezuela and Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine respectively, teams who are only very slightly above England's opponents in the rankings.
Tenth-placed Croatia were also given a scare as they eventually ran out 3-1 winners against lowly Malta, who are ranked 167th in the world, with only eighth-placed Portugal looking worth their value as they won 4-0. However, they played Cyprus, a team who have only won two points in their Euro 2012 qualifying group and are ranked 76th in the world.
So with all those sides struggling, it's fair to say England looked decent value for their place as the fourth-best team in the world.