'We've played better but we got three points'

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The Independent Football

Even for a player not known for his tackling, David Beckham's lack of competitive bite last night was the most notable feature of his first return to this ground since swapping Manchester for Madrid.

The England captain conceded as much after last night's win, saying it was "hard even to get involved" in some challenges knowing that a booking would have kept him out of next month's crucial group decider against Turkey in Istanbul. "On the 50-50 balls I was thinking twice," he said. "But I tried to get on with my game."

Anyone hoping for any semblance of the heart-and-soul, match-winning heroics that the England captain displayed on this ground in the World Cup qualifying match against Greece in October 2001 had another think coming.

"We always want to put in a good performance for ourselves and the fans," he said, having agreed the display had been less than stellar. "But I said before the game that we'd take 1-0 or 2-0. We've played better, but we got the three points."

Beckham had, of course, promised Sven Goran Eriksson that he would not be booked under any circumstances. But the reality of such a pledge meant that he was effectively neutered, not so much a shadow as a shadow dancer. At times any hint of physical contact with the Liechtenstein players - who were not dirty but no shrinking violets either - had him hopping and jumping from the fray or backing off when he should have been steaming in.

Ultimately the gamble paid off. When the Real Madrid midfielder was replaced by Owen Hargreaves in the 58th minute, his side were 2-0 ahead and on their way to a win - the only thing that mattered.

Eriksson said his team's performance, and Beckham's, was "professional", adding that his side could have scored more goals. He praised Wayne Rooney's performance in particular, saying: "If he goes on playing like this, it's very difficult to leave him out." The Swede would not be drawn on what that might mean for the Turkey match and was reticent to talk about that game at all.

Beckham, too, declined to talk about that game, although Michael Owen, who opened the scoring last night, said he was looking forward to it. "We always knew it was going to be the big one," he said.

Owen's 46th-minute strike means he has now scored 24 international goals, putting him level with Sir Geoff Hurst's record for England and in the No 11 spot overall for his country. "I'm not even halfway to the main target yet," he said, playing down his achievement. Sir Bobby Charlton holds the record with 49 England goals.

Owen praised the contribution of Rooney. "It speaks volumes for his ability that he's able to play in that role [behind a front pairing]," the Liverpool forward said. Eriksson added: "For a 17-year-old boy, he is excellent. He has scored twice in two games, which is a good way to play at the start of an international career."

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