Rooney leads escape from Skopje

Road to Euro 2004: Wayne becomes youngest England scorer in a Beckham-inspired fightback as Eriksson is spared the ultimate ridicule
Click to follow
The Independent Online

England escaped from Skopje with a 2-1 victory over Macedonia after an embarrassing performance in the first half and kept their European Championship qualifying campaign moving in the right direction. Wayne Rooney rode to England's rescue with an equaliser shortly after the interval and they won the match with a penalty put away by their captain, David Beckham.

Sven Goran Eriksson's adventurous decision to replace Frank Lampard with Emile Heskey paid handsome dividends after England had created few chances from a midfield that lacked invention in the first half. They went in trailing 1-0 at half-time, having fallen behind after a comedy of errors at the back. Vlatko Grozdanovski flummoxed the left-back, Ashley Cole, but that defensive weakness paled when his Arsenal team-mate, Sol Campbell, attempted to head clear Grozdanovski's low and dropping cross. The ball found its way through Campbell and on to Georgi Hristov, who once plied his trade in England, and his shot went into the net off the goalkeeper, David James.

There was a marked difference between that first-half display in which England did not create a noteworthy chance, and the second half. Eriksson put it down to his substitution. "I think Heskey was important because maybe the only thing we lacked in the first half was not being big enough up front," Eriksson said. "We needed more weight... it was a tactical change and it was not that Frank Lampard was playing badly; he played very well."

The importance of Heskey, who again was the victim of racist chanting from a section of the crowd, was amply demonstarted then the Liverpool forward leapt to head the ball down perfectly into Rooney's stride and the young striker's ineffective first-half efforts were forgotten as he swept in the equaliser to become England's youngest goalscorer.

Suddenly things were looking up for Eriksson's side and another unconvincing performance was showing signs of producing a victory. The decisive goal came in the 63rd minute, and again it was inspired by Beckham. The captain played the ball into the penalty area where John Terry, whose main role was to hold the fort at the back in Rio Ferdinand's absence, turned sharply and was tripped. Beckham showed command of his nerves to stroke the spot-kick low into the corner of the net.

Eriksson had not been surprised by the quality of Macedonia's performance as a team and some of their individuals. "I said for the past five days, 'Pay a lot of attention to Macedonia because they have a good team', and I think they showed that today," Eriksson said. Perhaps they were allowed to, at least in the first half.

England play Liechtenstein at Old Trafford on Wednesday and then are going to have to demonstrate quality in their final match away to Turkey. The Turks last night cemented their place at the top of the Group Seven table, two points ahead of England, by beating Liechtenstein 3-0.

Comments