Wayne Rooney hobbled away nursing a slight toe injury but confident that England have "one foot in the finals" after his first international goals for a year thrust the team clear at the top of Group G with a chance to establish a six-point lead to come next week.
The Manchester United striker required treatment on a big toe after the match but is expected to train over the weekend before Tuesday's visit of Wales, who secured a shock 2-1 win over Montenegro last night. His first-half brace, building on an early lead established by Gary Cahill on his first competitive start for his country, ensured this was a comfortable victory even if the evening was marred by racist chanting directed at visiting players.Victory for England over Wales at Wembley would leave them needing a draw in Montenegro next month to qualify for Euro 2012.
"We are almost there," Rooney said. "Wales did us a big favour by beating Montenegro tonight. We've got one foot into the finals. If we win on Tuesday we will more or less have qualified and we are capable of doing that."
Rooney's last two international goals had come against Switzerland in September 2010 and before that against Croatia in September 2009, with the forward thankful to have registered again at last. "It felt good," he said. "It was a good performance from the whole team and we fully deserved the three points. I'm enjoying my football, I've got a hunger about me and I want to prove myself again.
"My toe is not a problem. I just landed on it in the second half. The physio has looked at it, said it's fine and I will take part in training."
Fabio Capello claimed the injury would clear up "in 24 hours" and was thankful to see Rooney demonstrating the form he has enjoyed at United with the national team. Rooney's goals made him the joint‑seventh top scorer for England with 28.
"It's really important because he's a player with movement, he creates a lot of space for the other players, and he doesn't stay only upfield," Capello said. "He comes back, his movement creating difficulties for the opponents. Afterwards he always arrives in front of goal where you need him. This is important.
"So I'm happy because he scored but I'm really happy with the performance of the team. Rooney played very well, but the whole team were really focused in every moment. I'd seen this Bulgarian team play against Switzerland and Montenegro and create a lot of chances, but tonight they only created one."
Four points from their final two games, with a trip to Podgorica to come in the final qualifier next month, will secure passage to the tournament in Ukraine and Poland with the objective now to open up a six‑point gap from Montenegro before next month's qualifiers. "That'd be ideal," said John Terry. "It's still not over and we've got a job to do on Tuesday night but this was ideal. We soaked up their pressure and, after that, played some really good football ourselves. Some of it was the best we've played in a long time."
Cahill became the first Bolton Wanderers player to score for England in 52 years with his close‑range finish 14 minutes into his first competitive start. Yet it was England's attacking play, with Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Theo Walcott excelling behind Rooney, that caught the eye. "That was one of my better England performances for a long time," said Walcott. "Certainly my best since Croatia [in 2008 when he scored a hat-trick in Zagreb]. I'm enjoying my football and I think it shows.
"There are some great players on form at the moment. It shows from the front-line how quick we were. The squad itself is the strongest we have had for a time. There is plenty of competition for places and everyone has to be on their toes. It's always nice to know there's a little gap between us and the pack, but we have to put in another great performance at Wembley now. At times, our form has not been the greatest there but hopefully, we can take this form into Tuesday."
Capello had opted to play Gareth Barry rather than Frank Lampard, a sign perhaps that time is closing in on the Chelsea midfielder's international career. "Frank didn't play because I could only choose four midfielders," said the Italian. "I've seen a lot of Premier League games and, as I told you in the build-up, I will always choose the 1st XI from players who, for me, are at the best moment of form. That is all."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
Have something to tell us about this article?