A decent performance is all that is required for the Three Lions to expose awful defending from the home side, as three first-half goals secured a simple yet vital win in Sofia
England, as expected, handed a debut to Chris Smalling at right-back, where the 21-year-old has been so effective out of position for Manchester United. The most surprising omission was Frank Lampard, ignored for competitive selection when available for the first time in four years.
After a very quiet start to the game, with neither side looking to grab it by the scruff of the neck, England stole an advantage out of nowhere after twelve minutes. Following a corner, Gareth Barry slipped a clever pass through a disorganised mass of Bulgarian defenders into Cahill, up from the back for the set-piece, who managed to eke the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs with a good finish to mark his first goal for his country.
The match remained at the sedate pace with which it had started for the few minutes that followed, with Bulgaria effectively absent, and after twenty minutes, another goal came out of the blue. It was one that will have enraged Lothar Matthaus as his Bulgarians offered no resistance when defending Downing’s corner, allowing Rooney to nod in a worryingly simple header near the penalty spot. England were finding themselves having to make very little effort to score goals.
Shortly afterward, Parker pushed on to pick out Theo Walcott approaching the area, who pulled it back to Rooney, but finally a Bulgarian offered an attempt at defence as Bodurov removed the danger.
Bulgaria were gradually starting to fight back and Blagoy Georgiev flighted a useful cross into the box from the left flank as the half hour passed, but Genkov could not meet it. Shortly after, Petrov tried to test Joe Hart with a low long-range shot, however it was easily gathered.
A worrying moment for England came just moments later when Smalling completely misjudged the flight of a cross, leaving Petrov space to play it on into the box – but luckily for the debutant, the winger’s volleyed delivery was simply dealt with. The Bulgarians had woken up after their sleepy start and were now comfortably the dominant force in the game.
However, despite England having dropped off totally, Rooney doubled his tally and killed the tie off on the break, when Young played a sublime pass through the legs of Ivan Ivanov for his club colleague to slot home easily at the far post. Nikolay Mihaylov in goal was all at sea and Petar Zanev at right-back paid Rooney no attention at all as the misery piled on for Matthaus.
After the break Bulgaria seemed to show a little more life, with Hart needing to make a smart close-range save when Petrov whipped in a corner that Ivanov met with a header, but it was again England who came closest to another goal, with Downing finding himself with time and space at the far post from Walcott’s cross, but the Liverpool man’s header hit the woodwork.
Head & shoulders | Dominant first half performance saw England triumph in Bulgaria
That narrow escape seemed to remind the home side of how much work they would have to do to wrestle themselves back in for a result and it appeared to take the remaining wind out of proceedings, with both sides slowing down. Capello showed he was turning his thoughts to Tuesday’s clash with Wales when he substituted the highly impressive Young to keep him fresh for Wembley. James Milner was brought on to help close the match out.
A long period passed with no notable chances, but Walcott should arguably have made it four as he was released past the last defender by Rooney, but the Arsenal man’s lofted attempted finish bounced harmlessly wide of the near post in an uncharacteristic miss.
Thereafter the game drifted back into nothingness with both sides settling for what they had, leaving England untroubled and well set to potentially seal their qualification at Wembley on Tuesday.