England made it four wins out of four with victory in Minsk. A superb Steven Gerrard strike opened the scoring for England before Belarus equalised through Pavel Sitko. However, a second half Wayne Rooney double secured victory for the Three Lions.
Belarus 1-3 England
England arrived in Minsk in good form, top of the group and hoping to maintain their 100 per cent record.
Indeed the Three Lions were searching for the win which would ensure their best ever start to a World Cup qualifying campaign, against a Belarus side ranked 59th in the world.
Whilst Fabio Capello had admitted he expected a tough game in Minsk, it took his side a little over ten minutes to begin where they left off against Kazakhstan, and open the scoring.
Wayne Rooney initiated the move, keeping possession well under pressure before laying the ball off to Steven Gerrard who duly placed a superb right-footed strike just inside goalkeeper Zhevnov’s left hand post from fully 30 yards.
Whilst Capello might have expected his side to go on and consolidate their early lead, instead, the visitors began to sit back allowing a confident Belarus team to knock the ball around and grow into the game.
Indeed, Bernd Stange’s men were not afraid to shoot at David James in the England goal. Molosh, Sitko and Kutuzov all testing the veteran stopper inside the opening twenty minutes.
Belarus’ neat passing and cute one-twos were troubling the visitors and they found themselves repeatedly carved open.
As the half progressed the pressure began to build and the equaliser, when it came, was fully deserved and might even have arrived earlier, save for some less than impressive finishing by Belarus
Yet it was a goal worth waiting for coming as it did, according to the statisticians, at the end of a 23 pass move which simply carved England to pieces and left Capello’s men chasing shadows.
The wonderful flowing move culminated in Ihar Strasevich being played into acres of space on the right hand side. The winger cut inside, leaving Wayne Bridge for dead, before dinking an exact ball to the far post where an unmarked Pavel Sitko fired a diving header past James.
Yet just as at Wembley against Kazakhstan, England emerged from the break looking far more determined and within five minutes they had reclaimed the lead, starting the second half in much the same vein as they had begun the first.
A strong run from Heskey down the left saw the Wigan striker brush off the attentions of two defenders before picking out Rooney in the middle with a low cross. The in-form Manchester United striker then side-footed a smart finish past Zhevnov to put his side back in front.
However, this time England maintained their composure in the match and once again it was Rooney who, with his second brace in consecutive matches, all but sealed the win with fifteen minutes to go.
Wayne Bridge began the move, playing the ball in-field which Rooney dummied allowing Gerrard to clip the ball through to the Manchester United man just inside the area. Rooney’s quick feet then beat his defender before he confidently slotted the ball home to finish a wonderful goal.
It could have been even better for England, with Steven Gerrard almost claiming his second of the match with five minutes to go. The Liverpool captain capitalised on some poor Belarus defending to run on and beat the goalkeeper but his flicked finished came back off the post.
Yet Capello, surely, will not mind too much. Another important victory leaves his side in pole position in the group and with four straight victories in World Cup qualifying for the first time in their history.
Belarus: Zhevnov, Verkhovtsov, Filipenko, Omelyanchuk, Molosh, Kulchy, Sitko, Putsilo (Rodionov, 67), Stasevich (V Hleb, 90), Kutuzov (Strakhanovich, 77), Bulyga
England: James, Brown, Ferdinand, Upson, Bridge, Barry, Gerrard, Lampard, Walcott (Wright-Phillips, 68), Heskey (Crouch, 70), Rooney (Beckham, 88).
1-3 (Rooney, 75)
1-2 (Rooney, 50)
1-1 Belarus (Sitko, 28)
0-1 England (Gerrard, 11)