Cahill 13, Rooney 21, 45+1
England took a strangle hold on Group G of the Euro 2012 qualifiers, as Fabio Capello sent out a new look side to destroy Bulgaria. The Italian set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and its flexibility proved too much for a desperately disappointing Bulgarian outfit.
In front of Joe Hart, Capello gave an international debut to Chris Smalling at right-back and handed a first international start to Gary Cahill alongside John Terry in the heart of the England defence. The midfield screen was provided by Scott Parker and Gareth Barry. This allowed a fluid three of Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing to operate behind Wayne Rooney.
While Fabio Capello moved away from the 4-4-2 formation which had hamstrung England at the World Cup, Lothar Matthaeus was happy to send his Bulgarian side out to play in that shape. Premier League stars Stiliyan and Martin Petrov made up the left half of the midfield, with Tsvetan Genkov slightly ahead of Ivelin Popov in attack.
It was a nervy opening by England as they appeared to be wary of the pitch, which had been heavily criticised in the build up to the match. Those nerves were settled in the 12th minute as Bulgaria failed to clear a corner and Gareth Barry cleverly picked out Gary Cahill. The Bolton defender showed impressive composure to control the ball on his chest before slotting under Nikolay Mihaylov in the Bulgarian goal. The lead was doubled eight minutes later when the Bulgarians’ weakness from set-pieces was exposed again. This time Stewart Downing’s corner from the right was swung to the back post where Wayne Rooney rose to head home unchallenged.
Despite the two goal lead, England still had some nervy moments. Bulgaria, without ever threatening the England goal, caused some consternation for both Hart and Smalling who suffered misjudgements when dealing with balls across the face of goal. With Barry and Parker proving an additional barrier in the centre of the park, Bulgaria needed to attack in the wide areas, but were unable to make any headway. England on the other hand were finding joy on the flanks, although Ashley Young did seem to struggle in the hole behind Rooney.
As the first half drew to a close, Bulgaria enjoyed their most prolonged period of possession but still failed to put the England defence under any real pressure, resorting to long range efforts. In stoppage time Martin Petrov attempted another 30-yard shot, which was charged down by Parker on the edge of the box, which led to a swift England breakaway. Theo Walcott striding forward before sliding the ball to Ashley Young, who intelligently squared the ball to Rooney, giving his club mate the easiest of tap-ins to wrap the game up.
Bulgaria came out with a little more passion at the start of the second period, making Hart work for the first time as Stiliyan Petrov forced a good save with a flicked header from a corner. England, though, were happy to allow Bulgaria to pass the ball around the middle of the park, and then swiftly counter-attack whenever the home side surrendered possession. They came close to adding a fourth on numerous occasions, Stewart Downing the closest with a header off the post, but were happy enough to settle with an comfortable three goal victory.