Wayne Rooney scored twice as England kept their FIFA World Cup™ show on the road with a 5-1 Wembley win over Group 9 minnows Kazakhstan that was nothing like as convincing as the scoreline suggested.
After the euphoria generated by last month's 4-1 win in Croatia, Fabio Capello had been hoping to treat the Wembley crowd to the kind of display that would silence the jeers that had marred his squad's three previous appearances in front of their own supporters. Instead, the Italian had to endure the sight of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard once again failing to work effectively as a midfield combination as England made their fans wait until seven minutes into the second half before Rio Ferdinand headed them into the lead.
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 of salvaging something from the match before Rooney's double and a late strike from substitute Jermain Defoe spared their coach a tense finale.
England might have enjoyed a more straightforward evening if Emile Heskey had taken been able to take a third-minute chance that was to prove their best opportunity of the opening period. Set clear on the right by Wes Brown's dummy, Theo Walcott powered into the box before sending a low cross skidding across the goalmouth. Sliding in at full-stretch at the back post, Heskey managed to get a boot to the ball but not the clean contact that would have directed it into an empty net.
On that evidence, Kazakhstan did not look like a side that would take long to dismantle but England's high-tempo start quickly gave way to the kind of lethargic display that had frustrated their fans in recent Wembley friendlies. By the break, long-range efforts from Rooney, Walcott and Lampard were all that England could add to the early opening, while the Kazakhs limited ambitions did not prevent them generating a couple of scares at the other end of the pitch. Both were the result of errors by Matthew Upson. The West Ham defender, drafted in to replace injured captain John Terry, twice allowed Tanat Nusserbayev to escape into threatening positions.
Although neither incident led to goalkeeper David James being seriously tested, Capello was sufficiently unhappy with what he had seen to abandon his starting system at half-time, the holding midfielder Gareth Barry sacrificed to allow Shaun Wright-Phillips to give England some width down the left. It paid off quickly enough with the Manchester City man's deflected shot earning a corner that Lampard curled in for Ferdinand to head home for the opener.
The fist pumping celebration that followed from Ferdinand seemed out of place against such modest opponents, but the relief was understandable perhaps in light of let-off England had enjoyed five minutes earlier, when Nusserbayev 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 crisp drive from 25 yards out slipped through James's gloves and spun inches wide.
Capello must have though England's work for the evening was largely over when, with 25 minutes left, Alexandr Kuchma glanced Lampard's freekick past his own goalkeeper to double the hosts lead. Instead, Ashley Cole gifted 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. Zhambyl Logvinenko seized on the opportunity with aplomb, gathering the ball on his chest before drilling a low drive past James's right hand.
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 and gave England's goal difference figures a welcome boost, but Belarus in Minsk on Wednesday will provide a significantly sterner test.