Fabio Capello has warned his England stars that Belarus will provide a much sterner FIFA World Cup™ test than a Kazakhstan side that frustrated them for the best part of an hour at Wembley on Saturday.
Although England ultimately ran out 5-1 winners against the Group 9 minnows, it was a far convincing display from Capello's men, who missed the authority of injured captain John Terry in defence and were lethargic in attack until their inexperienced opponents tired in the final half hour.
Capello said he was optimistic that Terry would have recovered sufficiently in time to play in Minsk. "I think and I hope he will be okay," the Italian said. "He will do some light training on Sunday, and after we will decide."
Having seen some of the euphoria generated by last month's 4-1 win in Croatia evaporate, Capello admitted a much better display would be required in the Belarussian capital.
"Belarus are a good team. I saw the game they played against Ukraine and they played very well. They are an organised team and a strong team. It will not be an easy game."
Capello has some tactical thinking to do after being forced to completely reshape his line-up at the end of a goalless first half on Saturday, switching from an ineffective 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 with Shaun Wright-Phillips deployed wide on the left.
England made their fans wait until seven minutes into the second half before Rio Ferdinand headed them into the lead against opponents featuring six players promoted from the U-21s with just two full caps between them. By that stage, England should have been behind and it required an own goal by defender Alexandr Kuchma to double their advantage.
Zhambyl Kukeyev's well-taken strike briefly gave the visitors hope, before a Wayne Rooney double and a late strike from substitute Jermain Defoe put additional gloss on a performance England's players acknowledged could have been better.
Rooney said: "We knew we had to be patient, the chances would come and we would take them. We took them in the end and ended up with an easy victory. ."
We know we can play better, but the result was the main thing - to get the points on the board
Ferdinand added: "We would like to play better than we did today - especially in the first half - but we won 5-1. We've got three points on the board and we're pleased with that."
Capello also delivered a mixed review. "It is not easy to play against teams that are not so big and are always defending. It is not easy to find space and to give good passes but, sure, after 45 minutes I was not happy.
"I put Shaun Wright-Phillips on at half-time because I wanted to have more pace on the left and we switched to 4-4-2. That meant Rooney was much closer to Emile Heskey and he played very well."
Kazakhstan's German coach, Bernd Storck, admitted he had been happy to get to half-time on level terms in his first match in charge. "We did very well, but we tired badly in the second half and that affected our concentration. We have to work on our endurance, but still the result was harsh on my team."
England might have enjoyed a more straightforward evening if Heskey had been able to convert Theo Walcott's third-minute cross. Long-range efforts aside, that was their only chance until Ferdinand opened the scoring seven minutes into the second half.
By then, Kazakhstan had provided a couple of first-half scares, both the result of errors by Terry's replacement, Matthew Upson, who twice allowed Tanat Nusserbayev to escape into threatening positions.
Neither incident led to goalkeeper David James being tested, but the forward should have put his side ahead two minutes into the second half, when he lifted a knockdown from Sergey Ostapenko over the bar from inside the six-yard box. Even after going ahead, England were given another scare when Nusserbayev's drive slipped through James's gloves and spun inches wide.
Kuchma's own goal doubled England's lead only for Ashley Cole to gift the Kazakhs the opportunity to score a goal away from home for the first time in eight matches with an astonishingly sloppy pass across the edge of his own area.
Kukeyev seized on the opportunity, gathering the ball on his chest before drilling a low drive past James.
Rooney made the points safe in the 77th minute with a textbook header from Wes Brown's cross, before claiming his 17th international goal with a close-range finish after Upson had deflected substitute David Beckham's cross into his path. Defoe applied the finishing touch but Belarus will have been encouraged by what they saw at Wembley.
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