England took a massive step towards qualification for the 2010 World Cup with a sixth win in six games, against lively but limited Kazakhstan. With just Andorra at Wembley before the players hit the holiday beaches – as close to a formality as international football can offer – Fabio Capello's team can look forward to kicking off next season with a maximum 21 points and a passage to South Africa almost assured.
Gareth Barry scored the first goal, but picked up a booking that will keep him out of the next game. Yet, as England added further goals through Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard to set up what could be a record-breaking start by Wednesday night, they will not mind too much about that.
Perhaps there is nothing all that impressive about winning in Almaty – England beat the Kazakhs 5-1 at Wembley and Belarus managed a similar scoreline here – but after a long season and arduous journey, this fixture had all the ingredients for an upset. England were reminded of that with under a minute on the clock when Glen Johnson let Tanat Nusserbayer through on the left and John Terry had to step in to help Robert Green deal with the cross after the goalkeeper failed to collect it cleanly.
On his first international start, Green's confidence was further shredded when Sergey Ostapenko beat him to a free-kick at the far post 16 minutes later, only for the goal to be ruled out and the delirium in the stadium to be brought to a halt by an offside flag.
For all Capello's touchline consternation there was a jolly, end-of-season atmosphere from the start in a picturesque stadium, with the sun setting over the Tyan Shan mountains and ticketless locals making use of a nearby tower block to gain a view.
England eventually settled to play some football, though the first half-hour was frantic and formless enough to bring Capello to his feet on several occasions after he initially expressed displeasure with Johnson. "I was disappointed with the positions of some of our players, but it was hard to get the message across," Capello said when asked to explain why he had spent the first 30 minutes imitating Basil Fawlty on a bad day.
"I told the players beforehand that Kazakhstan would press us like that; we ought to have been expecting it, but when the first goal went in it changed the game." He stopped short of saying it was "bleedin' obvious", but four goals to the good can calm anyone down.
Neither side managed to keep the ball particularly well in the opening minutes and Barry had already been guilty of a couple of stray passes when he was booked in the 15th minute for pulling back Zhambyl Kukeyev. England needed to calm down, and calm the game down, and were grateful for the respite granted by a knee injury to Ostapenko and the striker's subsequent early departure.
When a Rooney shot from distance flew harmlessly over the bar, at least it was a sign England were moving in the right direction. Alexandr Mokin cleared straight to Heskey shortly afterwards and although the striker was not quick enough to return an immediate shot towards an empty net, he was unlucky to see his eventual effort rebound from the foot of a post.
Once England got a grip on what was always a physical contest, they were rewarded. Rooney and Theo Walcott began to get involved in the game – a promising run by Walcott down the right came to an end only when he showed too much of the ball to a defender – and a move instigated by Rooney for Ashley Cole down the left resulted in a corner from which England took the lead. Cole played the corner short and Steven Gerrard lofted a cross to the far post, where Barry made up for his earlier aberrations with a firm downward header.
There were only five minutes to the interval, but once the deadlock had been broken England relaxed and had a second goal by half-time. Not just any goal either, but Heskey's first in competitive England internationals since the 2002 World Cup finals. He will not get many easier chances to boost his England tally. Gerrard tried his luck with a long-range shot and Mokin dropped the ball at Heskey's feet. Even a finisher as notoriously erratic as Heskey was not going to pass up such an opportunity and he can now boast seven goals in 53 England appearances.
The urgency went out of the game in the second half, although interest was provided by Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Walcott and proceeding to miscontrol virtually everything that came his way. That did not stop Rooney scoring his eighth England goal in his past six games with a spectacular bicycle kick, after his original effort had been beaten out following Johnson's run and cross down the right.
David Beckham came on once the match was definitely won, though there was still time for a Frank Lampard penalty after Heskey had been hacked down by Renat Abdulin.
In fact, there was time for a comedy pitch invader, who snagged himself in Green's net and saved the chasing police the trouble of catching him. That at least brought a late, rousing cheer from the home crowd. If England were not at their most convincing, the Group Six table certainly looks convincing enough. Climb to the top of the mountains here abouts and you can see Xanadu. If England make it seven out of seven on Wednesday, they can stake a similar claim.