Walcott, Sterling extend England’s winning run

With record goal-scorer Wayne Rooney injured, Theo Walcott strengthened his claim to a central striking role as England defeated Estonia 2-0 at Wembley on Friday to register a ninth win in nine Euro 2016 qualifiers.

England's Theo Walcott scores their first goal against Estonia.   -  Reuters

Sterling (left) netted England’s second goal in the 85th minute, polishing off a cross from substitute Jamie Vardy.   -  REUTERS

Theo Walcott strengthened his claim to a central striking role as England defeated Estonia 2-0 at Wembley on Friday to register a ninth win in nine Euro 2016 qualifiers.

With record goal-scorer Wayne Rooney injured, Harry Kane led the line for England, but it was Walcott who opened the scoring in a drab game before Raheem Sterling struck a second goal late on.

It gave Roy Hodgson’s side, who have already qualified, a ninth consecutive win in Group E and kept them on course to become only the sixth team to win all of their matches in a European Championship qualifying campaign ahead of Monday’s final game away to Lithuania.

“We won, that’s always a major positive. We knew it would be a hard 90 minutes,” said Hodgson, who handed a debut to 19-year-old Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Delle Ali.

“We were unlucky we didn’t score a few more. We had the possession in the final third enough, but the ninth victory out of nine was everything here.”

While England’s planning for next year’s tournament in France is well under way, Slovenia’s draw with Lithuania in the evening’s other group game means that Estonia have only a mathematical chance of qualifying.

“Now it’s over for this qualification,” said Estonia coach Magnus Pehrsson. “Even if we felt we followed our game plan, when you are ambitious like I am and the team are, it’s always a bad feeling when you lose.”

Before kick-off Rooney was presented with a golden boot by Bobby Charlton for netting a record 50th England goal last month, but with the captain sidelined by an ankle injury, Chelsea centre-back Gary Cahill led the team out for the first time.

Fresh from a fine display in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Manchester United, Walcott drilled wide after cutting in from his station on the right flank and also saw an effort deflected into the side-netting by Taijo Teniste.

With half-time imminent, he put the hosts ahead, darting into the box to collect an imaginative and carefully weighted through ball from Barkley and placing the ball wide of Aksalu.

It was the former Southampton player’s eighth goal in 42 international appearances and his seventh goal in nine matches for club and country.

Sterling netted England’s second goal in the 85th minute, polishing off a cross from substitute Jamie Vardy, before Alli came on for his international debut, with Barkley departing.

Meanwhile, Italy secured qualification to Euro 2016 with a game to spare on Saturday after a 3-1 win away to Group H rivals Azerbaijan, who were reduced to 10 men in the closing minutes.

Sampdoria striker Eder opened Italy’s account inside the quarter hour and although Azerbaijan levelled through Dmitri Nazarov on 31 minutes, Monaco forward Stephan El Shaarawy restored Italy’s advantage just before half time.

Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian gave Italy some breathing space with a superb strike on 65 minutes.

Italy, beaten finalists at Euro 2012, remain top of Group H on 21 points from nine qualifiers, two ahead of Norway ahead of the sides’ clash in Rome on Tuesday.