With a memorable hat-trick to his name and three important points on the board at the start of the UEFA EURO 2012 campaign, Jermain Defoe had reason to be grateful that he postponed a groin operation to take his place at the head of England's attack against Bulgaria.
There certainly seemed nothing to impair the striker's razor-sharp skills as he opened the scoring with just two minutes on the clock. Two more emphatic strikes followed in the second half to put the gloss on a clinical performance in England's Group G opener.
Defoe thereby became the first England player to score a hat-trick at the new Wembley. When UEFA.com informed him of that feat, he replied: "I didn't even know that. Seriously? That's brilliant." More confirmation that he had been right to avoid the surgeon's scalpel at this early stage of the season even though his form for Tottenham Hotspur FC had been affected by the groin problem.
"I'm glad I didn't have [the operation] now," he said. "It's been a little bit sore but I've been doing a lot of core work in the gym to try and improve it and tonight I didn't get a reaction so that's good. It was a great performance by us tonight. We moved the ball well, the tempo was good and we created a lot of chances which is always important."
It would have been remiss of Defoe not to mention the contribution of his strike partner Wayne Rooney who had a hand in all four goals, with substitute Adam Johnson scoring his first international goal inside the last ten minutes, just before Defoe completed his treble. "Wayne's a great player," Defoe said. "The role he played tonight, just behind me, means he can get on the ball and affect the game and he was fantastic tonight."
Captain Steven Gerrard saluted the team performance, saying: "From Joe Hart to the front two, we were good all over the pitch." It put the disappointing memory of South Africa a little further into the past. "I said it would take time before this team would be ready to challenge the big sides but tonight was certainly a statement from us," Gerrard added.
By contrast, Bulgaria are nursing their wounds and looking back with regret at a number of chances that slipped away in the second half with the score at 1-0. "At 1-1 it would have been different," commented striker Valeri Bojinov. "But it finished no score for Bulgaria and 4-0 for England. It was tough but that's football."
Nevertheless Bojinov believes they can bounce back on Tuesday when they face Montenegro in Sofia. "We will be ready – Bulgaria always want to win against Montenegro," he added.
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