Such is the heady response to a comfortable win over the team ranked 141st in the world, some of Fleet Street's finest have even started speculating that after all these years, maybe Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together after all.
However, there were conflicting accounts of Tom Cleverley's contribution, while one of the English hacks in attendance chose to focus mostly on the boozing habits of the hosts and the physical attributes of their women.
They think it's Moldova? It Chisinau.
The No10 shirt has never meant as much in England as it does in Brazil, Argentina or Italy, which says something about the way football is played in the country of its birth, but last night there was a definite significance behind Roy Hodgson's decision to place it on the shoulders of Tom Cleverley, making only his second senior international appearance. The magic number was worn in the 1966 World Cup by Geoff Hurst and in the heyday of the so-called golden generation by Michael Owen, both of them gifted and successful but neither possessing the attributes of a player in the classic mould. In the post-war era only Johnny Haynes, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and Joe Cole resembled a genuine No10 in England's colours, and every one of them suffered from managerial suspicion of their creativity. Against Moldova, however, who are ranked 141st in the world, it seemed that Hodgson had decided to give Cleverley a chance to demonstrate his gifts as a playmaker, occupying the space in front of the defensive midfielders, between the wingers and behind the lone striker.
Matt Dickinson, the Times: 'Tom Cleverley yet to convince he can be a boy for Brazil'
This 'test' was so far removed from England’s defeat by Italy at Euro 2012 — and the challenges that should await Roy Hodgson’s team in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo — as to bear no comparison. Still, this could hardly be a small occasion for Tom Cleverley, making his first competitive start for England only weeks after his debut. And doing so with a No 10 on his back. Seeing him elevated to that pivotal role, you could say it is no wonder we build up Wayne Rooney and agonise over his absences (only to kick him when he returns and disappoints). Cleverley has not been raised as a trequartista; indeed, even at 23, it is not yet clear what he is going to become or how good he is going to be at it. An attacking midfield player obviously, with tidy technique and his head up, not lacking in ambition or diligence or bright movement or positivity on the ball. But we wait to see how he can impose himself on big games.
It has been the question that has bored and fascinated in almost equal measure for the past decade of England’s football history. Can Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard play effectively together in the same midfield? With past history threatening to deliver a negative answer, it was typical last night that, at this late stage of their careers, they produced a performance to suggest that there could yet be a happy ending. The opponents were admittedly only Moldova but, in playing with a collective discipline that was previously so lacking in their partnership, Lampard and Gerrard emphatically demonstrated that their strengths can complement one another.
For a little while England were so pulverising you had to wish life could always be like this – but then how often are Moldova available for services to the broken psyche of a once serious football nation? Twice in this World Cup campaign, of course, but it could just be they have already served their purpose. For a few fleeting moments in the first half they looked like a team who might just stitch together enough coherent football to justify the now time-honoured claim, this time made by England manager Roy Hodgson, that there are no longer any easy games in world football, even against a team who looked a shade flattered to be ranked 141 in the world. In fact there are and England had proved it in 32 minutes with two goals by Frank Lampard, one from a distinctly soft penalty, and another by Jermain Defoe. However, if this was essentially a push-over, Hodgson can only have been encouraged by the weight and the wit that some of his younger contenders applied to the task.
Gerrard was superb in the midfield anchor role — every inch an England captain — and had a hand in the first two goals. He was replaced by Michael Carrick after 45 minutes, but only because Hodgson wanted to rest him ahead of Tuesday's qualifier against Ukraine in the belief that the win here was already in the bag. There were other positives. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is growing in stature on the international stage and points, like Cleverley, to a bright future, while Milner impressed on the opposite flank. From England’s defenders came an assured performance as well, albeit against opponents who would do well to secure a place in an English League Two team. Indeed, the only negative was John Terry’s injury. The manager has his first World Cup win and after eight games he has yet to lose in normal or extra time. Not bad for a guy thrown in at the deep end shortly before the European Championship.
Five goals, three points, and a hint that things might be going in the right direction. While Roy Hodgson put his Old Guard on parade, he gave the new order their heads as well. And as England flew out of tumbledown Chisinau last night on the back of their best away win in 19 years, the prevailing thought was a simple one. Maybe Uncle Roy does know what he's talking about. Maybe, in their veteran years, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can form themselves into a natural midfield fulcrum, a platform for younger legs to gallop. And maybe, just maybe, we can occasionally live without Wayne Rooney, especially when Tom Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain offer genuine zest, thrust and poise, with Jermain Defoe getting the service any lone striker requires.
The Moldovans consume more alcohol per head than any other nation in the world. Some 18 litres each in a country famed for its vineyards and red wine — even the Queen is said to be a fan of their Purcari Negru. After the performance last night of their football team, you can understand why they keep chucking the stuff down their throats. Ah, well, at least their men have some of the most beautiful girls in the world with which to console themselves. The drinks last night were certainly on England. And being poured early. Boss Roy Hodgson could not have asked for a better start than this on the road to Brazil 2014.
- Tom Cleverley
- Frank Lampard
- Steven Gerrard
- Roy Hodgson