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IT'S NO JOKE IN A BLAME OF 2 HALVES; Late show spares Fabio's blushes WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFIERS The road to South Africa ENGLAND 5 KAZAKHSTAN 1.

Byline: Steve Bates reporting from Wembley

THE JOKE has been on Kazakhstan ever since Borat made his bow - but at the home of football last night they so nearly had the last laugh on Fabio Capello's Jekyll and Hyde stars.

Never again will an Englishman laugh at Kazakhstan's football prowess.

Nor will they expect England's long, long trip to the fringes of China and Mongolia to play the Kazaks next June to be an easy ride after an astonishing night at Wembley.

The 4-1 win in Croatia last month was meant to be the turning point for Capello and his stars. It seems, though, that they've driven back into familiar territory - a cul-de-sac of confusion and complacency.

The scoreline may suggest an England cruise but for a long time against a football nation still in its infancy this was a trip through choppy waters.

In the end a second-half goal by Rio Ferdinand, a gift from Alexandr Kuchma, a couple from Wayne Rooney, and a late strike by Jermain Defoe kept England in charge of their group.

But a reply by Zhambyl Kukeyev and a real close call by Tanat Nuserbayev gave Capello more scares than he needed.

Capello may be The Man With The Plan but for a long time it looked as if his opposite number Bernd Storck had won the tactics battle as his men shut England out for 51 minutes.

The Kazak performance can be placed into proper context when you realise not one of their stars on display last night play outside of Europe's furthest outpost.

Yet they pushed England all the way and it was only deep into the second half, when their work-rate dipped, that England's class began to tell.

Capello and his No.2 Franco Baldini spent the warm-up watching Kazak players instead of their own - but they couldn't have expected them to be holding England's millionaire stars at half time.

Yet that was the disastrous scenario Capello faced - just as he had done in Barcelona when Andorra frustrated an England side expected to stroll to victory.

After the euphoria of Zagreb, England punters turned up waiting for an avalanche of goals against a nation lampooned by the fictional Borat character.

But there was nothing funny about the way Kazakhstan's players set about their Mission Impossible task. Organised, disciplined and committed, they set about frustrating England with a game-plan based on sheer hard graft - and trust in their German coach Storck.

And when that failed they made sure Theo Walcott knew they were there. The teenage star who destroyed Croatia with a stunning hat-trick raised the temperature every time he got the ball.

And if the Kazaks couldn't stop him fairly they halted his progress any way they could. The youngster clearly carried his Zagreb form into this qualifier and with just two minutes gone he zipped down the right flank, beating marker Alexandr Kirov, and caused mayhem with a terrific ball into the heart of the Kazak six-yard box.

Emile Heskey looked set to pounce but Kazak defenders threw their bodies in the way and ended up with a free-kick as Belgian referee Paul Allaerts spotted a foul.

Another dart by Walcott saw him cynically tripped by Kazak skipper Rulsan Baltiyev but Allaerts kept his cards firmly tucked away.

Then came a minor scare as a mixup left Nuserbayev with a shooting chance but he pulled his effort wide.

Capello had pleaded for patience from a Wembley crowd who have been quick to voice their anger in the past. And they needed to show self-restraint as the fabulous form of Zagreb simply evaporated. As the half wore on it bore all the hallmarks of the dismal first 45 minutes against Andorra.

Steven Gerrard's return appeared to upset the midfield balance and the Liverpool skipper hardly made an accurate pass.

Frank Lampard wasn't a whole lot better while Gareth Barry failed to impress too.

Up front Heskey had little support while Rooney put in his customary tireless shift but found those around him struggling. Except Walcott.

The Arsenal kid looked England's best hope of making a breakthrough - and he went close with 16 minutes gone. From a raking Rooney pass Walcott cut inside and tried to curl a left-footer into the top corner but the ball sailed just over.

Unlike Barcelona, the boos were muted as the half-time whistle blew, and Capello headed for the dressing room with plenty to put right.

He couldn't fault the effort or application - but this was England back to their clueless worst against a side who spent Friday buying new boots and Three Lions shirts at a knockdown price.

Capello needed drastic action and he replaced Barry with Shaun Wright-Phillips to inject more pace and menace into England's disjointed play.

As against Andorra earlier this season the breakthrough came quickly after the interval as centrehalf Ferdinand struck - but not before Kazakhstan's star man Nuserbayev so nearly silenced Wembley's masses. The 21-year-old, making his international debut, could have made himself a national hero when Ibrayev's cross was headed down in the box by Sergey Ostapenko.

But the youngster rushed his effort and, with just David James to beat, ballooned the ball high over, to Capello's relief.

That sparked England to life and Ferdinand got the ball rolling with a header from Lampard's corner.

James pulled off a flying stop to keep out a Nuserbayev drive before Kuchma headed a dangerous Lampard free-kick into his own goal. Kukeyev's goal pulled England up short but a response wasn't long coming.

With England fully in their stride Wes Brown took a pass from Walcott and clipped a perfect cross to Rooney, who clinically headed home.

Shortly after David Beckham came on to a real Wembley roar, Rooney made it 4-1 from close range and, although Heskey could have grabbed a couple, it was Defoe who finished the rout with a confident strike from a Heskey lay-off to turn a tough night for England into a party.

'Capello may be The Man With The Plan but for a long time it looked like his opposite number had won the tactics battle ...'


THE FERD MAN: Skipper Rio Ferdinand leaps to put England ahead and (left) is congratulated by Wes Brown; SUPER SUB: Jermain Defoe made it five; ROO-TINE: Beckham congratulates Rooney; EMBARRASSED: Ashley Cole after his blunder; ROO BEAUTY: Wayne Rooney heads England's third and (left) giving 100 per cent for the Three Lions
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 12, 2008
Previous Article:RIO IN ROAR; Ferdy's delight at opener.
Next Article:ROO MAKES SURE JOKE'S ON BORAT; Kazakh crumble spares Fab blushes WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFIERS The road to South Africa ENGLAND 5 KAZAKHSTAN 1.

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