England outclassed Moldova 4-0 to top World Cup qualifying Group H after two goals from Danny Welbeck and one each from captain Steven Gerrard and Rickie Lambert sealed a comfortable victory at Wembley on Friday.
The result gave England the perfect lift ahead of Tuesday’s more difficult game in Ukraine, who kept alive their chances of qualifying for next year’s finals in Brazil with a 9-0 rout of San Marino.
With previous group leaders Montenegro drawing 1-1 in Poland, England head the group with 15 points from seven matches ahead of Montenegro, who have played one game more, on goal difference. Ukraine have 14 points and Poland 10 from seven.
But England manager Roy Hodgson, delighted with the three points, was not happy that Welbeck, who had an outstanding game, was booked and will miss Tuesday’s match.
Welbeck was handed what appeared to be a soft yellow card from Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak for kicking the ball at the exact moment the referee blew the whistle for an offside shortly before halftime.
It was his second booking of the campaign and he proved just how much he will be missed in Ukraine when he scored his first of the match moments later and his second five minutes after the break.
“The yellow card has overshadowed the win for me,” Hodgson told reporters.
“You will have to work very, very hard to persuade me that was a booking. He has got a yellow card, he is out of the game, we will live with it and deal with it. Did I think it was a yellow card or the right decision? No, I didn’t.”
Welbeck also had a hand in the first goal and the Manchester United forward, who has scored six times in his last seven England matches, will be missed in Kiev especially as his United team mate Wayne Rooney is sidelined and Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is also unlikely to play because of injury.
Welbeck showed brilliant skill in the build-up to the first goal by Gerrard, who scored with a low strike after 12 minutes, before Lambert made it 2-0 with a header in the 26th. Welbeck wrapped up the victory by scoring either side of halftime.
The match was effectively over by the break after England dominated the first 45 minutes as Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard, winning his 99th cap, took a firm grip on midfield with the skipper playing as the defensive lynchpin.
Moldova are 123rd in FIFA’s world rankings and England keeper Joe Hart did not have a save to make in a one-sided affair that fizzled out after the fourth goal.
The opening goal settled any England nerves and the hosts assumed complete control when Lambert, who scored with his first touch on his debut against Scotland three weeks ago, made it 2-0 with another header after goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco, who had a woeful match, parried Theo Walcott’s drive.
Welbeck made it 3-0 with a well taken goal in first-half stoppage time, collecting a long through ball from Walcott to outpace Namasco and touch the ball home.
His second came five minutes after the break when he dinked a left-foot shot into an empty net with Namasco again in the wrong place.
Moldova manager Ion Caras summed up his team’s miserable performance by saying: “Considering the superiority of the hosts, we could have lost by a far bigger margin.
“But having said that, some of the goals were our own fault and you cannot make mistakes like that against teams like England.”
Moldova stay fifth in the six-team group with one win from eight matches and still have to play San Marino and Montenegro. (Editing by Ken Ferris)