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England edge closer to South Africa

SoccerNews in English Premier League, World Cup 6 Jun 2009

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A stuttering start turned into a stroll as England took another significant step towards next year’s World Cup with a 4-0 win over Kazakhstan here on Saturday.

First-half goals from Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney’s eighth in his last six internationals and a Frank Lampard penalty ensured Fabio Capello’s squad avoided the pitfalls involved in their trip to central Asia and made it six wins out of six in group six.

Capello had warned his players that he would not accept the draining effects of an eight-hour flight and a five-hour time difference as excuses for anything less than a totally focused performance.

It was not an instruction that Glen Johnson appeared to have absorbed as he dithered on the ball in the opening seconds to present the Kazakhs with the opportunity to claim an opening goal that might have transformed the pattern of the contest.

Zhambyl Kukeyev clipped the ball away from the Portsmouth right-back and sent in a low cross that Sergey Ostapenko, who had got in front of both England centrebacks, should have buried at the near post.

As it was, the ball bounced goalwards off Matthew Upson’s shins and Robert Green, making his first international start thanks to David James’s decision to undergo shoulder surgery, was forced to make an important block before John Terry hooked the ball to safety.

England had another let off in the 17th minute, when Ostapenko headed in Kukeyev’s freekick at the back post. A linesman’s flag for offside spared Green scrutiny of how he ended up stranded as the Kazakh striker, who was to limp off ten minutes later, enjoyed a free header.

Nearly half an hour had elapsed before England conjured up their first moment of menace, Emile Heskey striking the inside of the post after capitalising on a misplaced clearance from goalkeeper Alexandr Mokin’s misplaced clearance.

The visitors then seized control with two goals in the space of five minutes at the end of the opening period.

The first came from a corner on the left that was played short by Frank Lampard to Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool midfielder turned the fullback all too easily and sent over a left-foot cross that Barry, unchallenged beyond the back post, was able to steer back across Mokin into the net.

Gerrard was also the instigator of the second with his cross taking a deflection over the head of Mokin, who, scrambling backwards, was only able to palm the ball towards Heskey, who hooked in a first-time finish from close range.

An ineffective display ensured Theo Walcott’s first England appearance in eight months ended with the introduction of Shaun Wright-Phillips at half-time.

The Manchester City winger was hardly any more influential than his Arsenal counterpart but he did start the move that led to England’s third goal by sending Johnson on a 73rd-minute overlap down the right side of the box.

The defender’s cross was deflected goalwards off Rooney’s knee, forcing Mokin into a superb save, but the goalkeeper’s impressive effort proved in vain. Rooney was first to the loose ball and swivelled acrobatically to hook it back into the net.

Five minutes later, Lampard added the fourth with an emphatic spot-kick after Heskey, straining to reach the rebound from Ashley Cole’s well-saved effort, was pulled to the ground by Renat Abdulin.

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