England survive fright night
Road to Euro 2004: Owen and Beckham deliver but lacklustre victory fails to worry Turks
Sunday 30 March 2003
England struggled to impose themselves on the part-timers of Liechtenstein yesterday, emerging from their evening out in the Alps with an unimpressive but none the less valuable 2-0 victory in their European Championship qualifying Group Seven match.
Michael Owen finally put England ahead after 28 minutes when he headed home a cross from Emile Heskey, who had been put clear by David Beckham. It was the England captain himself who added the second, to his and his team's great relief, eight minutes after the interval by firing a trademark free-kick into the net off an upright. The relief among the 900 England fans in the tiny stadium was almost tangible as Beckham's effort nestled in the back of the net, but they had to suffer several scares before the victory was secure.
Sven Goran Eriksson, England's coach, said: "At least there were three points we wanted and I think we did a professional job. Maybe there was a little bit of a lack of concentration at the end when they had chances to score. The last 10 to 15 minutes we lacked concentration. We gave them one or two chances to score, we shouldn't do that really."
The Liechtenstein striker Mario Frick, who plays in Italy for Ternana, was responsible for much of the home side's best work, at times tormenting the England defence with his trickery but he never produced a telling shot. However, Martin Stocklasa flashed a shot over the England bar shortly after Beckham's goal and the same player rattled the woodwork in injury time shortly after Rio Ferdinand headed a Thomas Beck attempt off the goal-line.
Now England must gather themselves to take on the group leaders Turkey at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland. The Turks, third in the World Cup finals last year, will not be quaking in their boots after this England showing, but perhaps their added quality will make England feel more comfortable with their own game.
Wales continued their impressive march towards the finals when they took their unbeaten run to 10 matches with a 4-0 demolition of Azerbaijan. They made the perfect start with Craig Bellamy harrying the Azeri defence into turning a Ryan Giggs cross into their own net after 13 seconds. Goals from Gary Speed, John Hartson and Giggs followed as Wales took a commanding lead in their qualifying group.
Despite their apparent shortcomings Scotland also lead their group after beating Iceland 2-1 as Germany, the favourites to win the section, slipped back after being held to a 1-1 draw at home by Lithuania. There were mixed fortunes for the Irish. The Republic rediscovered their winning touch in Georgia in their first competitive match under Brian Kerr, but Northern Ireland lost 1-0 in Armenia.
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