Where David Beckham is concerned there always seems to be a "but", and his performance in England's 2-0 victory over Wales was no different. There should have been no question about the talking point - his sublime goal, a 25-yard shot curled perfectly over Paul Jones into the top corner of the Welsh net. But... the England captain decided to take on Ben Thatcher, the rugged Welsh left-back, in a trial of strength and wills, and two collisions later shuffled painfully off the pitch to contemplate missing the next qualifying match in Azerbaijan on Wednesday. Initially the yellow card he collected in those confronattions ruled him out but later X-rays showed he had also suffered a hairline fracture of a rib.
Beckham, back on his old stamping ground at Old Trafford, unleashed his full repertoire of skills and tricks, supplying excellent corners and unleashing some trademark long passes to pick out men running into space. If his crossing was not at its best, the goal made up for any faults.
Sven Goran Eriksson considered it a job well done by his reshaped England side. He thought that the tactic of playing three forwards, with Wayne Rooney behind Jermain Defoe and Michael Owen, had been a success. "It was a typical professional performance," the Swedish coach said. "I wish we could have scored more goals, but playing the three forwards worked - they played well, all three of them."
Rooney was particularly successful in his new role and he was unlucky not to cap any of his rampaging runs with a goal. In one charge he cut a swathe through the packed Welsh defence, leaving two of their number on their backsides, only to see his shot deflected wide in a last-ditch challenge. Owen, looking out of touch, worked hard and was rewarded with the captain's armband after Beckham departed. He is obviously undroppable.
In the early exchanges it seemed that the diamond formation in midfield, with Rooney at its apex and Nicky Butt at its base, would enable England to run riot. They cut the reshaped Wales defence to ribbons as Mark Delaney tried to adjust to his unexpected move to centre-back from full-back after the experienced Andy Melville broke down during the warm-up. The opening goal after only four minutes came through the middle, with Frank Lampard's shot deflecting off Owen on its way into the net.
Wales gathered themselves, though, and put up a dogged fight without looking likely to score. "Our lads could have caved in and credit to them that they didn't but, at the end of the day, we were just a little bit short today," Mark Hughes, the departing Wales manager, said. "It was not the result we'd hoped for but then we had a few problems. We lost 'Mel' five minutes before kick-off and that was disruptive. I had to drop Simon Davies to right-back and he was going to be an attacking player."
Hughes must hope the successful sign-off he is seeking before concentrating on his job at Blackburn Rovers will come against Poland on Wednesday. That will be a tough task, tougher than England will be anticipating against Azerbaijan, even without Beckham. Step forward Shaun Wright-Phillips? Not necessarily, as it was Owen Hargreaves who came on for Beckham yesterday. Anyway, Eriksson may have another new formation to unleash on the world in Baku.Reuse content