Reds double up for England
Two braces from two Manchester United players – Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck – helped to ensure there was no embarrassment for England at Wembley in Friday night’s World Cup qualifying match.
Some might quibble that statement, however, given that opponents San Marino have only ever won one of their 100-plus international fixtures and there is only one full-time professional footballer in their ranks. The sell-out England crowd could certainly have been forgiven for expecting more goals in the first half than the pair from Rooney and Welbeck.
It took Roy Hodgson’s side 35 minutes to break the deadlock – shortly before he scored his first goal of the season from the penalty spot, temporary England captain Rooney missed the target with a diving header at the far post from Tom Cleverley’s first-time cross. He stepped up to convert from 12 yards though after Welbeck was fouled by goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini. The player who won the penalty doubled England’s lead with a reprise of his sublime Euro 2012 strike against Sweden, flicking home Aaron Lennon’s low cross with his back foot.
Of the four United players who started, Michael Carrick was the first to come off after 66 minutes when he was replaced by Jonjo Shelvey, who was last mentioned on this website when he was sent off against United in September. The Liverpool midfielder made a more positive impact on this England debut, however, delivering a cross that led to Rooney putting 3-0 England up with a first-time shot after Lennon lost control of Leighton Baines’ header back across goal. Just as he did in the first period, Welbeck followed his senior strike partner onto the scoresheet within two minutes, this time stabbing in at the near post from Cleverley’s centre. Cleverley also assisted England’s fifth goal, curled in by Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, shortly after Rooney was substituted.
Darren Fletcher was on the wrong end of a more closely-fought contest in Cardiff, where he made his first appearance for Scotland since November 2011. He was on course to be the winning captain after a first-half strike from West Brom’s James Morrison but then two goals in the last ten minutes from Tottenham’s Gareth Bale – one a long-range screamer, the other a penalty – secured a 2-1 victory for Wales in qualifying Group A. Naniwas on the losing side away from home too, as Portugal were defeated 1-0 by Group F rivals Russia.
Another United midfielder Shinji Kagawa had more joy on the road, playing a full 90 minutes as Japan beat France 1-0 in a friendly match. Old Trafford team-mate Patrice Evralooked on as an unused substitute. Robin van Persie also remained in the dug-out as Holland won 3-0 at home to Andorra in qualifying Group D.
Young Reds striker Joshua King came off the bench, however, to help Norway earn an away point in Switzerland. He entered the fray in the 71st minute, not long before Mario Gavranovic and Brede Hangeland traded goals in the 1-1 draw.