Wayne Rooney scored his sixth goal in World Cup qualifying on Saturday for England to beat Kazakhstan 4-0 and move closer to a spot at next year’s tournament in South Africa.
The Manchester United forward found the net in the 73rd minute as England made it six wins out of six in Group 6.
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Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey scored at the end of a nervy first half for the visitors, while Frank Lampard added the fourth from the penalty spot after Rooney’s goal.
Despite the flattering result, manager Fabio Capello can now prepare for Wednesday’s home match against Andorra knowing his players will almost certainly make the World Cup after they missed out on the 2008 European Championship.
“It took us about 20 minutes or half an hour to get going, but then we won comfortably,” Lampard said. “It was professional, there were things we could have done better.
“We are on a confident run and we need to keep it going. We’ve taken a big step again. Our main objective is to qualify, the sooner we do that the better.”
The emphatic score didn’t reflect the poor start England made.
Immediately from the kickoff, England defender Glen Johnson gave the ball away, allowing Zhambyl Kukeyev to charge down the left flank. It took Matthew Upson to prevent Sergey Ostapenko from turning Kukeyev’s cross past goalkeeper Robert Green.
There was an even greater reprieve in the 18th minute when Kukeyev swung in a free kick from the right and Ostapenkom headed the ball into the net, only to be adjudged offside.
England’s players struggled to string together passes on a field that visiting officials ordered to be cut just before the match.
“We couldn’t get to grip with the pitch,” Lampard said.
Only in the latter stages of the first half did England look a class above opponents who had collected only three points from its first five qualifiers.
Kazakhstan goalkeeper Alexandr Mokin blocked Heskey’s shot and a header from captain John Terry before England finally found the net in the 40th minute.
Barry, who completed a lucrative move to Manchester City earlier in the week, met Steven Gerrard’s cross with a downward header at the far post.
Gerrard was the provider again in first-half stoppage time when Heskey doubled the lead.
Gerrard’s deflected ball was parried by Mokin and Heskey tapped in his first competitive England goal since the 2002 World Cup.
The sluggish first half caused Capello to bring on Shaun Wright-Phillips in place of right winger Theo Walcott, who was ineffective on his first England start since dislocating his shoulder in the Wembley meeting with Kazakhstan last October.
England, though, took until the 73rd minute to score again.
Johnson used his strength to cut in from the right to find Rooney, whose initial shot was saved by Mokin but he met the rebound with a scissors kick that ended in the roof of the net.
Kazakhstan vs. England
After Heskey was brought down by Renat Abdulin, Lampard dispatched his penalty high into the goal in the 78th.
Kazkahstan: Alexander Mokin, Alexander Kirov, Renat Abdulin, Alexander Kislitsyn, Andrei Karpovich, Tanat Nusserbayev, Sergei Skorykh, Sergei Ostapenko (Sabyrkhan Ibrayev, 27), Zhambyl Kukeyev, Yevegeny Averchenko, Yury Logvinenko.
England: Robert Green, Glen Johnson (David Beckham, 75), John Terry, Matthew Upson, Ashley Cole, Theo Walcott (Shaun Wright-Phillips, 46), Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey (Jermain Defoe, 81).