Leeds striker opens his England account as the Three Lions draw with Portugal
England 1-1 Portugal
07 September 2002
Leeds striker opens his England account and steals the show as the Three Lions draw with Portugal at Villa Park.
There was a distinctive aura of a new era swirling around Villa Park this afternoon. A new tide of optimism and confidence has engulfed the English game since Sven-Goran Eriksson first arrived on these shores with a victory at the same ground eighteen months ago.
Though the Three Lions were not able to repeat the 3-0 victory they achieved that night, the journey on which Sven is leading us continues to inspire hope for both the present and the future. Football waits for no team and though the World Cup remains fresh in the mind, it must now be the Euro Qualifiers which take centre stage.
Sven used today's friendly against top-quality opposition to assess the credentials of the new blood he wants to infuse into an already buoyant camp. Nervous they may have been, but Bowyer, Smith, Woodgate and Dunn grabbed the opportunity afforded them with eager hands, simply confirming what Sven already knew - that the time has now come to unleash them on the international stage.
With the young lions eager to impress, England roared into the game with the amalgamation of pace and technique that is the hallmark of Sven's finest teams.
There was a reassuring balance about some of the key partnerships in Sven's selection. At the back, Rio and Gareth communicated well, while the all Leeds axis of Mills and Bowyer down the right flank looked conscientious in defence and ambitious going forward. There was also the lingering suspicion that we were watching an England front two who may well prove to be our strikeforce for some years to come.
Smith and Owen have known each other since their days together as students at the FA School of Excellence at Lilleshall and there were clear signs that this was a reunion that they both relished. Yet, despite England's initial ascendancy, Baia was rarely troubled, with Nicky Butt's blocked effort on sixteen minutes being an isolated early effort on goal.
After a bright first twenty minutes for the home side, it was Portugal who took the initiative as the half progressed.
Fleet of foot and imaginative in their play, they took the game to England, allowing Figo, the jewel in their crown, the licence to drift his sublime skills across the entire width of the pitch.
However, with players of the vision of Figo, Gerrard and Rui Costa all on the pitch, it was David James who produced the ball of the day to set up England's goal on 39 minutes. His outstanding 45-yard throw found Heskey in space on the left.
The Liverpool man strode forward before finding Owen who changed the point of the attack to find Bowyer on the right. The Leeds man looked up and instinctively found the run of his team-mate Alan Smith, who opened his England goalscoring account in emphatic style, diving to power home a header at the near post.
Sven is not one given to riotous celebration and even less to self-congratulation but the fact that the two new faces that he had introduced into the starting line-up today combined to such devastating effect will certainly not have been lost on the manager.
Sven made several changes at half-time and perhaps the team were still acquainting themselves with the sight of David Dunn and Jonathan Woodgate patrolling their stations in the heart of the midfield and defence when two early corners saw the Portuguese rattle both the crossbar and the post.
The half-time break certainly did nothing to harm Alan Smith's rhythm, though, and the Leeds man almost doubled his takings with a powerfully struck shot, which needed a last-ditch block to keep the margin at a single goal.
England's young pretenders may not know fear, but they do exhibit considerable flair and it was a shame that a wonderful 69th minute move involving Bridge, Dunn and Joe Cole did not result in what would have been a picture goal for Emile Heskey. The Liverpool man's powerful finish may have arrowed narrowly past the post but the move certainly hit the spot for the 40,000 fans that had turned out to get a glimpse of this new look England side.
Crowds all around the country make no secret of their affection for Joe Cole and the little magician nearly sneaked his first goal for his country with a right foot snapshot following more good work from Smith.
However, though the new breed have much promise they will also do well not to forget some of the older values of the English game - namely defensive organisation and strength at set-pieces.
Both were marked by their absence when, with twelve minutes remaining, Costinha rose unaccompanied at the far post to head home the Portuguese equaliser with a fair degree of aplomb.
There might have been more for the visitors too, had it not been for a couple of timely interventions from the impressive Woodgate.
Ultimately the fruits of today's game will be found in the months and years to come. With Bowyer, Woodgate and Dunn now fully integrated into the set-up, and Alan Smith, Joe Cole, Danny Murphy and Wayne Bridge all continuing to look increasingly comfortable at the highest level, the signs were encouraging.
That promise must now been turned into points when the European qualification campaign begins in earnest in Slovakia next month.
England: James, Mills (Bridge 45), Ferdinand (Woodgate 45), Southgate, Ashley Cole (Hargreaves 45), Bowyer (Sinclair 62), Gerrard (Dunn 45), Butt (Murphy 63), Heskey, Smith, Owen (Joe Cole 63). Subs Not Used: Robinson.
Portugal: Baia (Pereira 45), Beto (Nuno Gomes 45), Meira (Silva 78), Couto (Ferreira 45), Sergio Conceicao (Valente 45), Teixeira (Vidigal 65), Rui Costa (Boa Morte 45), Jorge (Capucho 45), Figo (Viana 45), Pauleta (Santos 45), Sabrosa (Costinha 54).
Referee: T Ovrebo (Norway)
From Daniel Freedman at Villa Park