SWITZERLAND (1) vs ENGLAND (3)
ENGLAND manager Fabio Capello praised Wayne Rooney after the troubled striker brushed aside off-field concerns to set the team on their way to an encouraging victory in Basel.
Rooney, who insisted on playing despite intense newspaper scrutiny of his private life in recent days, took just 10 minutes to justify the decision by scoring the opening goal – his first in England colours for a year.
Chances came and went, notably to forward Jermain Defoe, as the visitors failed to make their superiority count until Switzerland were reduced to 10 men by the sending off of Stephen Lichtsteiner.
But substitutes Adam Johnson and Darren Bent made the three points safe, either side of a blistering strike by Swiss starlet Xherdan Shaqiri, to hoist Capello’s team top of Group G.
“I think he played well,” Capello said of Rooney. “He was always at the centre of the play, the centre of the movement. I think the pressure was really strong on him, but he played very well.
“I think we played fantastic football in the first half. This game was very important to win, but we played really, really well. I was really happy after the first half. The second half we probably played too slow.”
On an overwhelmingly positive night for England, the main worry was an ankle injury that forced off Theo Walcott early on, but Capello played down the knock. “Theo tells me it’s not such a big problem. I said: ‘Two weeks?’ He told me less,” the Italian added.
World Cup wounds may be too fresh for England fans to get excited about the team’s prospects, but there was much to cheer last night.
Captain Steven Gerrard excelled again in the central role afforded to him in the last three matches, casting further doubt on the injured Frank Lampard’s place in Capello’s starting XI.
Winger Adam Johnson, too, enhanced his standing and capped a fine five days by terrorising the Swiss defence and adding to his goal in Friday’s 4-0 defeat of Bulgaria.
But it is Rooney who will derive the most satisfaction from starring in a match that had been expected to pose England’s toughest challenge of the qualifying campaign.
The Manchester United star put Capello’s side in control with the opener, arriving late to tuck home Glen Johnson’s cut-back, after Walcott had sent the defender galloping free down the right.
Defoe, scorer of three against Bulgaria, missed a hat-trick of chances and Glen Johnson saw a fierce drive tipped wide before Lichtsteiner’s 65th-minute dismissal for a second booking.
Johnson capitalised just four minutes later when he latched onto Gerrard’s precise through ball before expertly rounding Diego Benaglio.
Swiss substitute Shaqiri revived home hopes of a comeback with a thunderbolt effort that bewildered goalkeeper Joe Hart, but Bent restored the two-goal cushion and opened his international account with a clinical low finish.