A resurgent Wayne Rooney scored twice as new-look England edged closer to Euro 2012 qualification with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Bulgaria here Friday.
Rooney, building on his scintillating early season form for Manchester United, struck in the 21st and 45th minutes after England had taken the lead through Bolton defender Gary Cahill at the Vasil Levski Stadium.
The victory leaves Fabio Capello’s men firmly in control at the top of Group G, with only next Tuesday’s game against Wales at Wembley and a trip to second-placed Montenegro next month remaining.
But the defeat spelt the end of Bulgaria’s slender chances of qualification and piles the pressure on German coach Lothar Matthaus, whose reign has been marred by reports of player mutinies.
Bulgaria, who had been beaten 4-0 by England in the corresponding fixture at Wembley last year, proved every bit as toothless as their home record — zero goals in two previous matches — suggested.
Capello had sprung a surprise in his starting line-up, omitting Frank Lampard for the first time in four years after choosing to partner Scott Parker and Gareth Barry in central midfield ahead of the back four.
England’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with Liverpool’s Stewart Downing and Arsenal’s Theo Walcott either side of Ashley Young behind Rooney, proved too much for Bulgaria who were soon buckling under the superior movement of the visitors.
After a scrappy opening, England took the lead on 13 minutes through Cahill, preferred at centre-half by Capello despite strong claims to a debut cap for Manchester United’s promising teenager Phil Jones.
A corner from Young was cleared only as far as Barry, whose pass picked out Cahill in space leaving the defender free to poke home beyond advancing Bulgaria goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov.
After 21 minutes the match was effectively settled as a contest when Rooney punished abysmal marking by the Bulgarian defence to head home a Downing corner for his 27th international goal.
A dismal night for Bulgaria got even worse midway through the half, when sections of the home support subjected England debutant Chris Smalling to racist chants as the Manchester United defender received treatment for an injury.
It was the first salvo of repeated racist abuse of England players by a small pocket of the home crowd, raising the prospect of possible disciplinary action from European football’s governing body UEFA.
England produced the best possible riposte on the stroke of half-time however when Rooney grabbed his second of the night to make it 3-0.
Parker broke up a Bulgarian attack with a brave headed block, and the ball fell to Walcott who went on a surging run upfield before releasing Young on the edge of the area.
Young then picked out Rooney at the far post for the simplest of tap-ins to leave England in control, with Bulgaria reduced to a couple of long-range potshots from Bolton’s Martin Petrov which failed to trouble Joe Hart.
England were equally comfortable after the break, and Downing hit the woodwork on 55 minutes with a header across the face of goal after a cross from Walcott.
Watch highlights of the match on the below video: