The road to Rio: Five star England triumph
England launched their World Cup qualifying campaign with a five-star performance in Moldova, to record their biggest away win since 1993.
Frank Lampard scored twice to provided the perfect answer to questions about his age, with Jermain Defoe, James Milner and a deflected Leighton Baines free-kick underlining England’s overwhelming superiority.
It has to be pointed out England will face much stiffer tests than this, while the exits of John Terry and Steven Gerrard proved they did not escape unscathed.
Although the support they received from a 10,000-capacity stadium was impressive, Moldova, without a goal in a year, were poor, every bit their lowly status as 141st-ranked team, according to FIFA.
England are third in that list. And although no-one actually believes they are that good, Roy Hodgson’s men can feel confident they have the quality to navigate the journey to the world’s most glamorous football nation.
Though his squad seemed to remain much the same, there were only six survivors in Hodgson’s starting line-up from the team that lost their Euro 2012 quarter-final to Italy on penalties in Kiev.
Lampard might have come in quite handy on that night.
After all, when he drilled home from the spot after only four minutes this evening, the Chelsea man was converting his eighth penalty for England, a record.
However, as he will be 36 when the next World Cup finals get under way, some feel Lampard’s time on the international stage should be brought to an end.
Hodgson has dismissed such claims, insisting he will not jettison anyone on the grounds of age until others prove more capable.
How right he looks now, with Lampard moving onto 25 England goals with his first-half salvo, one more than Sir Geoff Hurst.
Hodgson could take some satisfaction from the knowledge one of his surprise selections created the opener.
Preferred to Manchester United team-mate Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley was eager to make a positive impression on his first competitive start.
He did exactly that by meeting James Milner’s far post cross perfectly, only for Semion Bulgaru to block it with his hand.
Referee Paul van Boekel gave England the benefit of the doubt and Lampard gave them the early advantage they craved.
In truth, though Moldova tried hard, they lacked the finesse to do any damage at this level, or the defensive solidity to keep England out.
Keeper Stanislav Namasco was unconvincing as he dealt with efforts from Defoe, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Glen Johnson before he was beaten once more by Lampard midway through the half.
Again the delivery came from the right – this time from Johnson – and Lampard was perfectly placed to convert.
Within three minutes, England had another.
Earlier this week, Defoe spoke about how being on the pitch is an escape from the tragedies he has experienced recently.
Selected ahead of Danny Welbeck for his first competitive start in two years, Defoe’s lively display was too much for Moldova to cope with.
And when Oxlade-Chamberlain rolled a pass through a static defence, Defoe found the net with a first-time shot.
The sting in the tail from that impressive opening period came when skipper Gerrard did not reappear for the start of the second period. Football Association staff played down injury concerns.
However, with an encounter against Ukraine to follow at Wembley on Tuesday, Hodgson will hope Gerrard has not suffered one of his periodic muscular problems.
If there is a consolation, it would be that Carrick has now made himself available.
On as Gerrard’s replacement, Carrick kept the ball ticking over as Hodgson would have wanted, even if some of the intensity had disappeared from England’s overall performance.
A fourth goal eventually arrived courtesy of James Milner after both Cleverley and substitute Welbeck had declined opportunities to shoot themselves.
And 10 minutes from time, Leighton Baines completed the victory, with, remarkably, England’s first goal direct from a free-kick since David Beckham scored against Ecuador in 2006.
However, the late departure of the injured Terry, leaving England to play the remainder of injury-time with 10 men and Carrick alongside Joleon Lescott in central defence, confirmed Hodgson’s men did not have things all their own way.
Here’s a look at the latest standings in Group H:
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