FA Boss Greg Dyke may on reflection feel like claiming his dismissive remarks over England’s chances of success in next year’s World Cup were actually by way of reverse psychology motivation. That would certainly sit better with the current group of English Lions whose pride may well have been stung by suggestions that the nation’s next realistic chance of glory is 9 long years away in the searing heat of Qatar 2022. None of the stars of today can expect to be involved then; most will be football pensioners, studio pundits or embittered lower-league coaches.
If Dyke does claim in retrospect that his words were intended as a spur to greater effort and attainment, the performance against a clearly-outclassed Moldova will have him preening himself for the effectiveness of his barbed remarks. England tore into the red shirts from the off and could have scored on more then one occasion before Steve Gerrard fastened on to the juiciest of lay-backs from Frank Lampard – his 99th cap tonight – and sent an arrow of a shot in off the base of a Moldovan post. 1-0 after 12 minutes and the pressure on a creaking defence, hardly reassured by the evident nervousness of their keeper Namasco, was not about to let up.
Namasco it was, with a weak flap at a Theo Walcott snap shot, who set up Rickie Lambert with the easiest of headers, point-blank into an empty net for the second England goal on 26 minutes. Easy, easy, so it seemed – but only England had scored more than 2 against this outfit in the group so far with a 5 goal demolition in the away fixture.
When the third goal arrived on the stroke of half-time, it was Danny Welbeck’s hero act following hard on the heels of his hapless villain. First he earned a stupid if slightly unfortunate yellow card, firing in a shot after play had been halted for an offside call. That will cost England his services, at a time they are stretched for attacking resources, for the crunch game against Ukraine on Tuesday. Welbeck immediately made some amends by controlling a forward ball to round the keeper as he surged clear of the defence to finish routinely.
The second half began quietly, the previously-booked Ashley Cole having been replaced by Leighton Baines as Manager Roy Hodgson looked to protect his troops from further disciplinary action. But within 5 minutes of the restart England had four, Welbeck finishing well from a sublime through ball slid in by the impressive Lambert whose performance was making nonsense of his mostly humble pedigree.
England were building pressure well on the Moldovan penalty area, finding the time to pick their passes deep in opposition territory. As the second half wore on though, thoughts of Tuesday night’s date in Kiev evidently dominated more and more. The terrific Lambert was replaced by Jamie Milner with over twenty minutes to go, his forthcoming contribution against the Ukraine assuming greater significance in the enforced absence of Welbeck. England were still threatening and Everton’s Ross Barkley, on for Jack Wilshere, fizzed a shot just wide with quarter of an hour to go. A few more minutes and Frank Lampard’s vicious drive brought a scrambling save from the beleaguered Moldovan keeper.
The result was long since decided though and the game was established into a pattern of relentless attack against packed defence, England able to find space seemingly at will. As injury time ticked its sparse two minutes away, there was just time for Milner to balloon the ball wildly over the bar when he had the time and space to do much better.
A much sterner test lies in wait in Kiev next Tuesday. Ukraine warmed up for England with a 9-0 demolition of San Marino and they will be a real obstacle to the progress of the Three Lions. But it’s so far, so good for Hodgson’s troops and they will be in good heart after ramming at least some of Greg Dyke’s words back down his throat. Whether they can maintain that laudable defiance in such a crucial tie as next week’s remains to be seen, but for the moment England’s eyes are set however optimistically on glory much sooner than their ultimate boss predicts.