David Beckham made history as England warmed up for their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ against Ukraine with a 4-0 victory over Slovakia in friendly at Wembley. The 33-year-old midfielder won his 109th cap when he came on as a half-time substitute, passing Bobby Moore's previous mark to make him his country's most capped outfield player. Now only goalkeeper Peter Shilton, with 125 appearances, has more England caps than Beckham.
Beckham marked the achievement by setting up Wayne Rooney's second-half header, after Emile Heskey had given Fabio Capello's side an early lead. Frank Lampard added a third goal in the final minutes, before Rooney grabbed his second.
But the impressive performance and Beckham's milestone were overshadowed by injuries to Heskey and Carlton Cole that leave Capello perilously short of attacking options for the crucial visit of Ukraine on Wednesday. Rooney and Peter Crouch are now England's only fit forwards, while the Italian coach could also be without Rio Ferdinand and Shaun Wright-Phillips after both missed today's friendly through injury.
With Ferdinand sidelined with a back problem suffered in training on Friday, Ledley King's withdrawal due to his chronic knee injury was even more of a frustration to Capello, who was instead forced to pick West Ham's Matthew Upson alongside John Terry at the heart of England's defence.
Capello's decision to leave Beckham on the bench meant attention could turn to the Italian's use of Steven Gerrard. The midfielder has been in the form of his life playing in a more advanced central role for Liverpool, but the England coach once again opted to deploy him out on the left wing, with license to roam from there. However, his confidence is so high right now that he could probably play in goal and still be a key figure.
Inevitably, Gerrard was in the thick of it as England, modelling their new home kit for the first time, took the lead in the seventh minute. His lay-off found Rooney, who slipped a neat pass back to Gerrard in the penalty area. The 28-year-old weaved his way to the touchline with a clever turn, and whipped in a low cross that Heskey stabbed in via the near post.
It was Heskey's first England goal since May 2003, and his maiden international goal at Wembley. That was as good as it got for the Aston Villa forward. He should added a second moments later but somehow contrived to head Rooney's cross over the bar from no more than four yards out, before limping off with a hamstring injury.
Cole, on as Heskey's replacement, fared little better than his team-mate and injury brought a premature end to the West Ham United player's day after just 20 minutes.
Aaron Lennon, making his first start for two years, caused problems for Slovakia's defence with his blistering pace, but a poor finish let him down after he surged past Martin Skrtel. It took a fine save from James to keep England ahead when a sloppy piece of play between Upson and Ashley Cole let in Robert Vittek just before the break.
Beckham came on for Lennon at half-time to reach his historic landmark, while Gerrard made way for Stewart Downing and Ben Foster replaced James. After so long as England's main man, Beckham has been reduced to bit-part status under Capello, but his loan at AC Milan has been revitalising and he still hopes to play on beyond South Africa 2010.
A typcially precise free-kick from Beckham almost led to a second goal when Terry turned in Crouch's flick from close-range, but the defender's strike was ruled out for offside. Beckham laid on another chance for Rooney with a low cross, only to see the Manchester United forward's shot turned away by Stefan Senecky.
He was not to be denied though. In the 71st minute, Beckham looped a cross from the touchline towards Rooney, who rose highest to head home England's second goal in emphatic fashion.
Lampard added a third in the 82nd minute when he turned and fired home Michael Carrick's pass. Rooney put the seal on England's stroll with a clinical finish from Lampard's cross in stoppage time.