'We were afraid to keep the ball'

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson admitted that Albania's second-half fightback had at times put England under more pressure than they had been in the Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

This may have been the Swede's fifth successive victory in World Cup qualifiers and one that has completed their journey from the bottom to the top of Group Nine, but Eriksson confessed that at times England had been prey to nerves on Tyneside.

"For 15 minutes in the second half we were more stretched than against Germany," he said. "We have to remember that the Germans only beat Albania in the last minute at home and it is easier to defend than it is to attack. We played rather good football in the first half and created so many chances that the game should have been over after 45 minutes. But it seemed in the second half that we were a little bit afraid to keep the ball.

"I am rather happy with the first half but we concede that we lost a lot of energy, both physically and mentally, in the Germany game."

After the majesty of England's performance in Munich, breaking down a resolute Albanian rearguard action proved a let-down, although the Group Nine standings are not. To qualify automatically for Japan and South Korea, England merely have to match Germany's result against Finland when they play Greece on 6 October at Old Trafford. Since the Greeks were thrashed 5-1 by the Finns, the momentum is with Eriksson and not the German coach, Rudi Völler.

When Eriksson succeeded Kevin Keegan, there were many within the FA who believed England should write off the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign and concentrate instead on building a side for the 2004 European Championships. Eriksson has dramatically exploded those theories, although in the press room at St James' Park he sounded surprised to have done so.

"I always said that my objective was to qualify for the World Cup finals but I thought we would do it through the play-offs," he remarked. "But we are not World Cup winners and we have to take it easy but despite what some might think we are still a good team and I am still positive and confident."

Ultimately, he was grateful to Michael Owen's raging form which has now produced 14 international goals, and the Liverpool striker's liking for St James' Park – the 44th minute opener was his sixth goal in three games at Newcastle.

"We still have one more game to win the group," said his captain, David Beckham. "It was not the prettiest of performances and at times we made it difficult for ourselves. The fans would have liked more goals but it makes the performance against Germany sweeter because it would have meant nothing without this.

"I am not happy with the form we have shown but I am happy with the win," he said and when asked if his niggling, bruising encounter with Edvin Murati might have provoked a lashing out from a younger Beckham, the England captain smiled and said: "Yes, I have grown up."

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