England march on in Minsk
Rooney strikes twice in 3-1 victory
Last Updated: 16/10/08 11:25am
Gerrard is congratulated after opening the scoring
England maintained their perfect start in World Cup qualifying Group 6 with a 3-1 victory against Belarus.
Steven Gerrard responded to criticism of his recent performances at international level by firing England in front after 11 minutes with a fantastic strike from 30 yards.
Belarus equalised in the 28th minute when Pavel Sitko rounded off a flowing move and the home team continued to pose problems for Fabio Capello's men in an open first half.
However, England turned in an improved display after the break and regained their lead on 50 minutes when Wayne Rooney scored from Emile Heskey's cross.
Rooney grabbed his second of the night in the 74th minute after exchanging passes with Gerrard, and England cruised through the closing stages to tighten their grip at the top of the table.
Belarus knocked the ball around in a confident manner in the early stages on a bobbly pitch without over-extending the England defence.
Theo Walcott threatened to unlock the home rearguard with some trickery on the right flank before his eventual low cross only just eluded the run of Rooney who appealed in vain that he had been held back.
Then after 11 minutes Gerrard's stunning strike temporarily silenced the passionate Belarus crowd.
Rooney battled away in typical fashion in the middle of the park to win the ball before laying it off for Gerrard and his fizzing first-time effort from distance curled past the dive of Alexander Kulchy into the corner of the net.
It was the Liverpool skipper's first competitive goal for his country since his brace 19 months ago in the European Championship qualifier with Andorra in Barcelona.
But, if England thought that would knock the stuffing out of Belarus, they were very much mistaken as their opponents engineered wave after wave of attacks.
David James found himself in the thick of the action on several occasions.
Sitko twice found space outside the box to extend the Portsmouth keeper who also denied Dmitry Molosh from a similar distance.
Anton Putilo became the first player to be yellow-carded for a late challenge on Frank Lampard but, as the Belarus pressure started to grow, it came as no surprise when they equalised through Sitko after 28 minutes.
After putting together a move of around 20 passes, Vitaly Kutuzov and Igor Stasevich were the creators on the right with the latter checking back inside after Bridge had dived in.
He then had ample time to measure and float an inviting cross into the path of Sitko who gave James no chance with a close-range header.
England retaliated after this setback and Heskey directed a near-post header just wide from a Lampard corner.
Kulchy clung on to a low skiddy drive from Lampard and was then relieved to see Walcott strike a low shot straight at him after wriggling free inside the box.
But England needed only five minutes of the second half to regain the advantage through Rooney.
Heskey was the creator with a powerful run into the box which took him past the challenge of Sergei Omelyanchuk before he turned the ball across the box - and Rooney did the rest with a clinical close-range finish.
Belarus were now posing little of the threat of the first half and, with 16 minutes remaining, Rooney killed off the game as a contest with his second.
Bridge played the ball into Gerrard after a dummy from Rooney who was then well positioned to receive the ball from the midfielder before clipping it past Kulchy.
Gerrard should have made it 4-1 in the closing stages but he hit the post with the goal at his mercy after rounding Kulchy.
There was just time for David Beckham to win his 107th cap as a late substitute for Rooney and overtake Sir Bobby Charlton in the all-time list.
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|5||Shots on Target||7|
|1||Shots off Target||5|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying
Wed 15th Oct - Group D
Russia3 - 0Finland
Germany1 - 0Wales
Wed 15th Oct - Group C
Czech Rep1 - 0Slovenia
Slovakia2 - 1Poland
N Ireland4 - 0San Marino
Wed 15th Oct - Group B
Latvia1 - 1Israel
Luxembourg0 - 0Moldova
Greece1 - 2Switzerland
Wed 15th Oct - Group G
Lithuania1 - 0Faroe Islands
Austria1 - 3Serbia
Wed 15th Oct - Group H
Georgia0 - 0Bulgaria
Rep Ireland1 - 0Cyprus
Italy2 - 1Montenegro
Wed 15th Oct - Group I
Norway0 - 1Netherlands
Iceland1 - 0Macedonia
Wed 15th Oct - Group A
Malta0 - 1Hungary
Portugal0 - 0Albania
Wed 15th Oct - Group F
Croatia4 - 0Andorra
Belarus1 - 3England
Wed 15th Oct - Group E
Bosnia4 - 1Armenia
Estonia0 - 0Turkey
Belgium1 - 2Spain
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group A
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group B
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group C
|4||Republic of Ireland||10||14|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group D
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group E
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group F
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group G
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group H
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group I