As part of our Snap-shots feature, Adam Bate looks at England's emphatic 5-0 win over Moldova in their World Cup qualifying opener.
Last Updated: September 8, 2012 6:22pm
Frank Lampard sets England on their way to a dominant win in Moldova
A Frank Lampard penalty inside three minutes set England up for a convincing five-goal win over Moldova in Chisinau. The Chelsea man added another before Jermain Defoe put the Three Lions three goals up before the break.
Further goals from James Milner and Leighton Baines in the second half completed a confident victory for Roy Hodgson's side ahead of Tuesday's more testing tie against Ukraine at Wembley.
Hodgson opted for a solid formation for the trip to Moldova leading to some accusations of negativity against a side that had won just one of their previous 12 games. James Milner would operate on the right-wing in a 4-5-1 system that saw Jermain Defoe take the lone-striker role. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were paired together in midfield - a debate that seems to have dogged the England side for the best part of a decade. Here they were joined by Manchester United youngster Tom Cleverley rather than his club team-mate Michael Carrick who was returning to the fold at competitive level.
At left-back Leighton Baines was the only change from the back-five that defended so valiantly throughout the summer's European Championship as he deputised for the injured Ashley Cole. The most exciting sight for England supporters was probably the presence of Arsenal teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left-wing and he was earmarked to be given more freedom in this system than the 4-4-2 formation in which he featured in his last international start against France at Euro 2012.
England have generally been impressive in qualifying campaigns of late and only winners Spain picked up more points on the way to the last World Cup finals in South Africa. Once again their attitude was impressive here as they were hungry for the ball all over the bobbly pitch and swamped their humble opponents in the early stages. Starting badly and not being able to change the tempo is the biggest threat to teams in England's position on these away trips and Hodgson's men negated that problem with a strong opening that brought three goals in little over half an hour.
Individually, Hodgson will have been encouraged by the fact that Gerrard and Lampard looked comfortable together with Cleverley helping out in midfield. The chief problem the long-serving duo have had working as a pair is becoming isolated in a 4-4-2 system but with Cleverley comfortable in a deep role and Oxlade-Chamberlain frequently coming in search of the ball on his favoured right foot it was never an issue against Moldova.
Gerrard was withdrawn at the interval and that gave Hodgson the chance to give Carrick some time on the pitch - probably essential given the furore surrounding the midfielder's alleged desire not to be considered in the past if he was asked to remain on the bench. Carrick showed his passing quality as the tempo slowed and Hodgson may suspect the United man could offer greater control of the game against superior opposition.
Theo Walcott replaced a tiring Oxlade-Chamberlain midway through the second half and once again showed his ability to inject enthusiasm and raw pace to any contest. The Arsenal winger is yet to start under Hodgson and on this evidence it is easy to see why he favours using the explosive wide-man as the game opens up late on. Danny Welbeck also showed his unselfish nature in combining for Milner's goal after coming on to replace the more direct Defoe.
Hodgson will be conscious that greater challenges are to come in Group H but his players did all that could be asked of them in this World Cup opener. The 64-year-old will have been looking for a committed and responsible display with attacking verve and he got just that from his men. While England are unlikely to be the only team to go to Moldova and win it is doubtful that any will do so as convincingly as this and that will be a source of encouragement.
After sticking to a rigid 4-4-2 for much of Euro 2012, Hodgson has shown in both the friendly win over Italy and this game in Chisinau that he is willing to utilise a 4-5-1 too. The hope will be that this greater tactical flexibility can offer England further options as the challenges get tougher. We will, of course, have a clearer idea of what this squad is capable of when pitted against the group's second-favourites Ukraine in midweek.