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Page last updated at 19:43 GMT, Saturday, 28 March 2009

England 4-0 Slovakia

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Wembley

Wayne Rooney scored twice as England eased to victory
Wayne Rooney scored twice as England eased to victory

England warmed up for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine with a comfortable victory over Slovakia - but coach Fabio Capello was left contemplating a potential striker shortage.

Emile Heskey set England on their way at Wembley when he turned in Steven Gerrard's cross at the near post after seven minutes.

And Wayne Rooney ensured the win for England with 20 minutes left when he headed in David Beckham's cross as the former captain produced an impressive cameo on his record-breaking 109th appearance for an outfield player.

Frank Lampard turned in a close-range effort with nine minutes left and Rooney grabbed his second in injury time to give England the emphatic victory margin their supremacy deserved.

But the gloss was taken off England's triumph by the early loss of goalscorer Heskey, as well as his replacement Carlton Cole before the interval.

Peter Crouch, another substitute, then limped off late on as Capello faced the prospect of seeing his attacking resources severely depleted.

Injuries aside, the game will have provided plenty to satisfy Capello, especially an outstanding first-half display from Gerrard and a performance of limitless energy and invention from Rooney.

This was the Rooney that Capello will have wanted to see after a red card in Manchester United's defeat at Fulham prompted the England coach to label his striker "a crazy man" - with no tantrums at Wembley, only an exhibition of the gifts that make him such a vital element of the international set-up.

Capello will have been concerned, however, by defensive frailties that meant England keeper David James had to produce two fine first-half saves from Miroslav Karhan and Robert Vittek.


Beckham's industry and quality after coming on as a half-time substitute for Aaron Lennon may also have provided Capello with food for thought as he weighs up his options ahead of Wednesday's Wembley meeting with Ukraine.

Slovakia hardly provided the sternest of tests, but England got the job done with the minimum of fuss and Capello can now turn his attentions to making it five wins out of five in a hitherto flawless World Cup campaign.

Capello handed Gerrard a role that saw Liverpool's captain patrolling the left flank, but with licence to roam at will and cause problems for Slovakia.

It did not take long for the ploy to produce dividends, with Gerrard the creator of Heskey's opening goal for England after seven minutes.

Gerrard's clever drag-back deceived Jozef Valachovic and his near-post cross was bundled home inelegantly but effectively by Heskey.

Heskey should have doubled England's advantage two minutes later, but he headed over the top after Rooney's cross left the goal at the Aston Villa striker's mercy.

And an eventful start for the striker came to a premature close after 14 minutes when he went off injured, to be replaced by Carlton Cole.

Slovakia were offering little in the way of attacking invention, but lapses in concentration from England at the back offered them encouragement their approach play barely deserved.

England were caught off-guard at a corner on the half-hour, and it needed goalkeeper James to come to the rescue with a fine diving save from Karhan.

Capello's attacking options were reduced again 11 minutes before the interval when substitute Cole went down holding his groin, paving the way for Crouch to come on.

England's best moments had come predominantly from Rooney and Gerrard, especially when they combined down the left flank - but it was Lennon who got in on the act as Slovakia came under threat once more.

The Spurs winger brought a fine block from Slovakian keeper Stefan Senecky, who recovered well to deny a follow-up header from Gerrard.

James was in action again after 40 minutes, turning a shot from Vittek over the top after a mix-up between Ashley Cole and Matthew Upson had let in Slovakia's captain.

Gerrard then tested Senecky with a low shot to cap an impressive 45 minutes, before he was involved in three changes made by Capello at the interval.

He was replaced by Stewart Downing, while Ben Foster replaced James and Beckham was able to add another cap to his collection at the expense of Lennon.

David Beckham and Frank Lampard celebrate England's third goal
David Beckham and Frank Lampard celebrate England's third goal

Slovakia substitute Erik Jendrisek wasted a good opportunity to restore equality after 56 minutes, but he shot into the side-netting after finding space in the penalty area.

Beckham was proving a lively presence in the early exchanges after the break, and he almost set up a goal for Rooney. He just failed to turn in an inviting cross, with England captain John Terry firing inches wide as the loose ball dropped at his feet 20 yards out.

It was a brief reprieve for Slovakia, as Rooney and Beckham combined to give England a deserved second goal after 70 minutes.

In a prime example of Beckham's enduring quality with the ball at his feet, his cross was delivered perfectly for Rooney to rise and direct his header beyond Senecky.

The goal killed off any slim hopes of Slovakia claiming anything from this game, and England emphasised their advantage in the closing stages.

Lampard shot across Senecky to make it three with eight minutes remaining, and Rooney crowned an outstanding personal display with a flighted close-range finish in injury time.

It completed a highly satisfactory workout for Capello's England - but now the coach must wait on medical bulletins on a trio of strikers ahead of the World Cup date with Ukraine.

England: James (Foster 46), Johnson, Upson, Terry, Ashley Cole, Lennon (Beckham 46), Lampard, Barry, Gerrard (Downing 46), Heskey (Carlton Cole 15), Rooney, Carlton Cole (Crouch 34), Crouch (Carrick 74).
Subs Not Used: Green, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines.

Goals: Heskey 7, Rooney 70, Lampard 82, Rooney 90.

Slovakia: Senecky, Pekarik, Valachovic, Skrtel, Cech (Jendrisek 46), Sestak (Jakubko 72), Zabavnik, Karhan (Strba 83), Kozak (Sapara 62), Hamsik (Mintal 79), Vittek (Holosko 46).
Subs Not Used: Mucha, Cisovsky, Kratochvil, Dobrotka, Obzera, Kamenar.

Booked: Sapara.

Att: 85,512

Ref: Alain Hamer (Luxembourg).

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: England's Wayne Rooney 7.79 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
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