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England captain Steven Gerrard was effusive in his praise after England maintained their lead at the top of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group G with a 3-1 win against Switzerland in Basel.
Wayne Rooney's first goal for his country in almost a year set the tone for Fabio Capello's side, who rarely looked like relinquishing their lead before further goals from substitutes Adam Johnson and Darren Bent, either side of a brilliant reply from Swiss substitute Xherdan Shaqiri, ensured England opened up an early six-point lead over the team many consider to be their biggest rivals for automatic qualification.
I think in the first half it was a perfect performance, exactly what the manager asked for," said Gerrard. "In the second half we dropped the tempo slightly and when we were 2-0 up the game should have been over. We let them back in but fortunately we got the third and killed the game."
The Liverpool FC midfielder conceded that the spirit in the camp had suffered as a result of England's disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign but believes the team have gone at least some way to repaying their fans with a solid start to UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying. "I think all the players who were over in South Africa realised it wasn't good enough, so we knew we had to regroup, stick together and try and raise our performance levels. I think over the last two games we've certainly done that."
Switzerland shocked eventual world champions Spain with a defensive, counterattacking display in their World Cup opener, and as such many predicted a frustrating night for England. "They've got a good record, especially at home," Gerrard continued. "Many people were talking about them being hard to score against and hard to beat, but I thought we tore them apart at times."
Gerrard paid particular tribute to team-mate Rooney. "We showed a great togetherness and the early goal for Wayne did him a world of good." The Manchester United FC forward has made a major impact in both his country's qualifiers to date – he created three of England's four goals in Friday's defeat of Bulgaria – and appears to be developing a good understanding with Jermaine Defoe. "Over the two games he's been fantastic for us," said Gerrard.
The defeat leaves Switzerland, reduced to ten men when Stephan Lichtsteiner was dismissed on 65 minutes, playing catch-up in the section – particularly as Montenegro also have maximum points from two outings. Nonetheless, Lichtsteiner believed his red card had little bearing on the final outcome, saying: "
I don't think my sending off had anything to do with the defeat. England are just a top-class team. But I have faith in the team. We have a strong squad and can still qualify."
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