Owen shows the international guile that Rooney must learn

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The Independent Football

As the evening shadows crept in, England needed something more than the absent but hardly forgotten David Beckham as unsung Slovakia again produced a dangerous dance. They required a little "Roonshine".

Unfortunately, young Wayne's batteries were rather run down. However, Michael Owen's were not. Nor was a professional instinct that was fuelled by his first England coach, Glenn Hoddle, who said that he should always be on the look out for a penalty.

Owen will know many triumphant moments of greater purity than the one in which he carried England away from disaster here last night, but if he dived he did it with a fine calculation. He received a nudge and turned it into an avalanche convincing enough, at least, for the German referee Wolfgang Stark.

It happens, and the Owen conviction is that if it is going to happen to anyone, it is as well that it does for you. Professionals, of course, think like that, and last night Eriksson was rescued by a superb one.

Owen and his Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard picked up England and carried them home. They did it without extravagant celebration.

They did not suggest they performed the football equivalent of splitting the atom. They just did a little practical business. They had no choice once it became apparent this time that the Roonshine simply was not going to appear.

Rooney was a revelation of poise and adventure in his competitive debut two months ago up the road in Sunderland, but, at 17, the kind of influence he exerted against Turkey perhaps cannot be so easily summoned ­ especially weeks after a first and emotionally draining season which would, in a less demanding world, have properly ended.

It meant that Eriksson went into half-time last night without any of that uplift brought by the Everton phenomenon back in April.

Then the Turks, World Cup semi-finalists last summer and the big threat in England's European Championship qualifying group, had been utterly eclipsed. England had grown before our eyes.

Last night ­ until Owen's intervention ­ it was the Slovaks who had the major growth spurt.

This happened most disturbingly for England when David James was left without a reflex to speak of after his defensive colleagues allowed a 30-yard speculative free-kick by Vladimir Janocko free passage into England's net, wiping away half an hour of absolute English domination and sharply increasing the pressure on the stand-in captain Owen.

Three times Owen had taken up brilliant positions but each time he failed to pull the trigger. It was negligence so out of character that Eriksson might have been tempted to check out the culprit's ID tag.

But then soon enough Owen announced himself all over again. If his first strike was dubious, his second was majestic ­ a beautifully timed run to head in Gerrard's acutely chipped cross.

Suddenly Rooney's potential, and the effectiveness of his substitute Darius Vassell in some purposeful running, became somewhat marginal issues. Owen had splendidly redeemed himself in his 50th international ­ and taken a huge stride towards that distant target of beating Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals for England.

He might have added another as England, for whom Gerrard was producing a superb level of both commitment and bite, once again surfaced from a display of great uncertainty against the lowly rated but sharp-witted Slovaks.

It was a night that started somewhat eerily for, if it was true or not that Beckham's absence demanded heightened effort from the squad, Eriksson's partner Nancy Dell'Olio was certainly prepared to do what she could to fill the cavernous celebrity void.

Glamourous in the soft evening sunshine, she signed her name in a dozen autograph books. On the field older imperatives prevailed and England, maybe encouraged by Macedonia's early going against Turkey, suggested they were about to tear apart the Slovaks.

Gerrard, particularly, was rampant in the early exchanges and certainly Beckham's enforced holiday seemed to be a matter of minor significance when the Liverpool man tore open the Slovak cover and sent Owen darting in on goal.

A strike at that point would surely have kept the furrows off Eriksson's forehead, but the England effort congealed for a while and the defence, in which the home favourite Gareth Southgate and Matthew Upson replaced Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand without conviction, was frankly asking for trouble.

Eriksson did something to remedy this when he replaced the lumbering Danny Mills and dismantled an unglittering diamond midfield formation. But nothing Eriksson could do could match the impact of Michael Owen. In the absence of Roonshine, the Liverpool man brought the hard beam of an old pro.

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