England moved clear of Montenegro at the top of Group G with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Bulgaria in Sofia on Friday.
Bolton defender Gary Cahill gave Fabio Capello's side the lead in the 12th minute before Wayne Rooney scored twice to continue his impressive start to the season.
"It was very important to win here," Capello told reporters after the game. "We played a really good game and prepared really well."
The Italian gave defender Chris Smalling his debut at right-back and the Manchester United player could not have asked for a more relaxed introduction to the international stage, with Bulgaria muted in attack throughout a one-sided 90 minutes.
England's hopes of automatic qualification were boosted further after Wales won 2-1 at home against Montenegro, who Capello's side face in their final qualifier next month.
Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard was left out of a competitive England game for the first time since 2007, as Capello opted for Scott Parker and Gareth Barry in the centre of midfield.
"I decided on Barry instead because I saw the last game he played and he was in good form," said Capello.
"Frank is always a really important player for the national team. He is getting better but he is not on top form at this moment."