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england 4-0 slovakia

Rooney steals the show on Beckham's big day

March 29, 2009
By Dom Raynor at Wembley

In the build up to Saturday's friendly with Slovakia all the talk had been about David Beckham setting a new record number of caps for an England outfield player, so much so that manager Fabio Capello chastised the media for not asking a single question about today's opponents in his pre-match match press conference.

Wayne Rooney
GettyImages / JamieMcDonaldWayne Rooney fires in his second goal

And the only nod to history in Capello's starting eleven was the retro new Umbro kit the squad paraded for the first time as the anthems blared at Wembley. Bobby Moore, the man Beckham would surpass when he eventually took to the pitch for his 109th cap, would not have looked out of place in it.

Capello instead chose to look to the future as he rewarded 21-year-old Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon for his improved form at White Hart Lane with a starting place on the right of England's midfield. The youngster's emergence at the 2006 World Cup was one of the reasons that Beckham was dropped by former England boss Steve McClaren but Lennon never met expectations and his demise lead to Beckham's recall.

But now the pacy winger is back in form, back in the England team and he was quickly back into the action here at Wembley as he provided an early cross that was cut out at the near post as Emile Heskey lurked.

There have been question marks about Lennon's decision making and delivery of the final ball and his next attempted cross was deflected into the path of Frank Lampard, whose shot forced a good save from Slovakia goalkeeper Stefan Senecky, rather than delivered to his colleague by design.

Still, Capello had turned to Lennon to provide his team with blistering pace in the absence of Arsenal's Theo Walcott and his speed helped him beat the offside trap on 10 minutes. Although he made the wrong decision to pull the ball back to the edge of the box rather than shoot his immediate impact was a pre-cursor to a lively half.

When England's opening goal did arrive it came down the opposite flank as Wayne Rooney and Steve Gerrard provided an unlikely combination down the left to supply Emile Heskey with a tap in after only seven minutes.

It was a rare strike for Heskey - included in the squad despite a goal drought since his summer move from Wigan to Aston Villa - who reverted to type moments later when he headed over from five yards after a delightful chip by Rooney.

Worse was to come for Heskey as he limped off with a hamstring injury after only 14 minutes and was replaced by West Ham's Carlton Cole.

It hardly seemed to matter with Rooney playing so well and when Cole later went off injured and his replacement Peter Crouch himself limped off in the 74th minute, leaving the Manchester United player as England's only remaining striker, thoughts turned to Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier with Ukraine and the possibility he would be leading the line as a lone striker.

However, if the powerhouse can recreate the form he showed here at Wembley there will be no cause for concern. He scored two of England's four goals and turned provider for another; stealing the spotlight on a day when Beckham became an England record breaker.

Beckham, now 33-years-old, replaced Lennon at the break to claim his 109th cap, beating the record of 1966 World Cup winning captain Moore, and although he cannot offer the pace of his young rival he proved his delivery from the flanks provides Capello with another weapon with which to test tiring defences.

David Beckham
GettyImages / PhilColeDavid Beckham applauds the fans

Beckham's battling qualities endeared him to Capello during their time together at Real Madrid, where the pair won the La Liga title, and the Italian had always insisted that he would stick with the Los Angeles Galaxy star if he could play his club football at a higher level.

Consequently, after two years in the relative shadows of Major League Soccer, Beckham moved to AC Milan in October to keep his international hopes alive - not simply to set appearance records but to play at World Cup 2010. He will be 35-years-old when the tournament starts in South Africa, but judging by Saturday's cameo performance he will still have something to offer.

The Wembley crowd had to wait until the 59th minute before the ball dropped to provide their long-time hero with the opportunity to deliver a trademark cross and when the chance came Beckham scuffed it. Second's later a free-kick was awarded in what has long been called "Beckham territory". His curling delivery was met by the head of Peter Crouch and would have given Beckham a moment to celebrate on his landmark occasion had England captain John Terry not prodded Crouch's goal bound effort over the line from an offside position.

From a half cleared corner Beckham's cross from the left nearly provided a rampant Rooney with a much deserved goal in the 65th minute but when the ball broke to Beckham on his favoured right foot his measured loft into the box was headed home by the Manchester United forward.

"David [Beckham] played like I know David can," said Capello. "It was a good cross for Wayne's goal. His movement was good and he held the ball really well."

Despite a leaner, fitter Beckham emerging after his time in Milan, deadball delivery and pin-point crosses remain his best weapon and some may argue England's, as goals seem to arrive along with his introduction to the action.

Frank Lampard appeared to prove the theory when he ensured an excellent night for England with a goal in the 81st minute but Rooney wasn't done upstaging his colleagues. The 23-year-old added another strike, England's fourth, with a chipped finishover Senecky in injury-time.

The moment sealed his man-of-the-match performance and may have had Capello forgetting about the dead leg for Crouch, hamstring tear for Heskey and abductor muscle injury for Cole that has left his squad light in attack.

"I am very happy for him," Capello said. "He played very well, scored two goals and is a very important player for us.

"His movement with Steven Gerrard was very good, both when we we're attacking and defending and I was delighted.

"Rooney can play anywhere. If our team were a pack of cards, he would be our joker."

Rooney has scored five goals for England in World Cup qualifying under Capello, making him the leading scorer in the European section [up to Saturday], and on this from he could easily increase that tally as a lone striker against Ukraine. It is enough to make you forget the young forward will also rack up his 50th cap on Wednesday night. Beckham's brand-new record may not be safe for long.