World Cup 2014: England off to a solid start

Moldova 0 – 5 England
Lampard 3’ (pen), 29’, Defoe 32’, Milner 74’, Baines 83’

England started their World Cup 2014 Qualifying campaign with a comfortable 5 – 0 victory against minnows Moldova in Chisinau in front of a crowd of just 10,250. Considering Moldova have a FIFA ranking of 141st, behind the likes of Turkmenistan, Lebanon and St Vincent and the Grenadines – anything less than an easy victory would have sparked heavy criticism for Roy Hodgson’s side. Although the FIFA rankings are somewhat disputed (England are third after all), Moldova lived up to theirs and never really looked like they were causing England serious trouble, tiring quickly after spending much of the night ball chasing.

Any chance of a major upset looked unlikely from the off when Frank Lampard scored from the spot in the 3rd minute after a Tom Cleverley shot was handled in the box by Simion Bulgaru. It was the 100th penalty England have been awarded and Lampard’s 8th goal from the spot for his country. Soon after, Jermaine Defoe had a fairly easy chance to double the lead with an effort from close range after good work from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and could have had another following that but was denied by a good save from Stanislav Namasco.

Lampard overtook Geoff Hurst’s goal-scoring record in the 29th minute with a header after an excellent ball from Glen Johnson from the edge of the box. This was one of the Chelsea midfielder’s finest performances for England in recent times, and although the pair have received much criticism and have not played together since the disaster against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, Lampard and Steven Gerrard linked up well together in what was their 51st start together in England colours.

Just three minutes later and England had the ball in the net again, after a surging run from Oxlade-Chamberlain culminated in a through ball to Defoe, who was able to squeeze a shot past Namasco to mark his 50th appearance for England with a goal. Moldova’s best chance came just before the half was up when Igor Armas sent a header wide from close range.

Half time saw Gerrard replaced by Michael Carrick, but England began the second half poorly in comparison to how dominant they were in the first. Tom Cleverley still remained energetic, and had a half chance with a sweeping volley after a good run down the right wing from James Milner. Given the strength of his performance and what looks to be a run of performances for Manchester United, Rio 2014 could well see Cleverley and Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere become England’s new central midfield pairing with great technical ability between the two. Roy Hodgson said Cleverley “didn’t look out of place” positioned just behind Jermaine Defoe and combining with the senior players around him in the middle of the pitch.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was replaced by Walcott in the 58th minute, and ten minutes later Hodgson made his third substitution by bringing on Danny Welbeck for Defoe. Soon after, John Terry picked up an ankle knock and decided to carry on for the next 15 minutes before limping off with five minutes to go. Hodgson will be hoping he is fit in time for Tuesday’s game at Wembley against Ukraine, their toughest opponents in Group H, although he does have solid replacements with the likes of Phil Jagielka who has had an excellent start for Everton, should Terry be ruled out. James Milner got himself on the score sheet after a long build up involving the two new substitutes and Cleverley, eventually allowing Milner to strike a low finish from the edge of the box for his first senior international goal coming on what was the Manchester City winger’s 32nd cap.

The night was rounded up when Leighton Baines managed to get his first international goal too, coming from a free-kick after Welbeck was fouled just outside the box on the right hand side. Baines’ left footed strike took a massive deflection, sending Namascus the wrong way. It was the first free-kick (albeit the deflection) England have scored since David Beckham scored against Ecuador in the 2006 World Cup.

Apart from the knock to Terry, England and Roy Hodgson can come away from this game with plenty of positives. Although playing against minnows, you can only beat what you are put up against, and it was still encouraging to see the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cleverley perform with such confidence given their age. In addition, the old guard of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard showed they still have what it takes to perform well at international level. England will look to Tuesday’s game against Ukraine brimming with confidence and will hope to finish this brief international break with 6 points and well on the way to qualification for Rio 2014.

Author: David Ahluwalia

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