A goal in either half from Michael Owen and David Beckham gave England a two-nil
A goal in either half from Michael Owen and David Beckham gave England a two-nil victory over a very plucky Liechtenstein side that didn't read the script and could have found the net themselves...
Rheinpark Stadium, Vaduz
Saturday 29th March 2003
5.30pm (GMT) 6.30 local time
Live on BBC1
Surrounded by the mountains of Liechtenstein, England tonight began their ascent back to the kind of form that will be required if they are to take the full six points from this crucial double header.
After the frustration of Macedonia and the disappointment of Australia, England got back on the winning trail with a professional and efficient performance to record a 2-0 victory against opposition who refused to be overawed by the prospect of matching themselves against players like Beckham and Owen.
Thankfully England's star duo showed once again why their talent is renowned around the globe. Is it possible to over-estimate Beckham and Owen's worth to the Three Lions? This wasn't England at their finest but it was evidence that they are beginning to shift up the gears with Turkey beginning to loom large on Wednesday. Once again it was Michael Owen who set England on their way - the question-marks over his form seem a long time ago now.
Ironically, after a brisk start in which Becks, Dyer and Neville had all shown early, Michael's 28th minute opener came at a time England's momentum looked to be waning a little. It was a well-worked goal and one which, in common with so much of England's best work, emanated from the right flank.
Becks released the rampaging Heskey and, after the power and pace of his run, he produced a deft cross that was met by Owen's textbook header to find the corner of the net from six yards. In a snapshot, and in a week in which he has once again been the subject of questioning and criticism, this was the perfect encapsulation of what Heskey offers England.
As for Owen, this strike - almost identical to his header against Paraguay a year ago - was his 20th international goal in 36 starts. I wonder if Sir Bobby's all-time goalscoring record has crossed his mind recently. Really England should have doubled their lead soon after. Twice in two minutes long balls found Becks and Heskey in one on ones with Jehle.
While the skipper failed to control the ball properly for his chance, Heskey had a penalty appeal turned down following the 'keeper's challenge on him. However, It was by no means all one way traffic and Liechtenstein's front pairing of Bent and Frick had a number of half chances throughout the game, most of which were created through their own desire and determination.
David James, starting his first competitive game for England, was not required to make many spectacular saves but he was not redundant either and will be happy with his contribution to England's clean sheet. In front of him, the returning Gareth Southgate was calmness personified and the balance of his partnership with Rio at the heart of the defence will have Sven thinking twice about whether or not to disrupt it, even if Sol Campbell is available.
England knew that a one-goal lead would always be an uncomfortable one and started the second half in business-like fashion. Dyer's lovely, weaving 47th minute run ended with a pass to Owen who couldn't believe his luck when he collected the ball and found himself on the edge of the area with Liechtenstein's defenders notable only by their absence.
It all seemed a little too simple until Jehle managed to block Michael's strike which was, in truth, not as clinical as we know he is capable of producing. At this stage though England were clearly dominating and a succession of chances and free-kicks seemed to indicate that the second strike could not be too far away. And so it proved.
You may know what Becks wants to do with his free-kicks when he steps up to the ball some 25 yards out...preventing him doing it is another matter entirely. He struck a pearler of a free-kick on 53 minutes, bending his effort with pace around the wall and in off Jehle's left hand post. Although they would never celebrate a goal against their own team, you could sense the awe in which the Liechtenstein fans held this latest example of Becks' dead-ball prowess. That's now ten international goals for David. When Sven took office, he had one.
A young man named Rooney was also given a run-out tonight, being introduced to the action on 78 minutes. Brian Kidd had a long chat with him on the touchline and Sven too had a precise word or two to impart. The coaches are keen to ease Wayne into his England career but sometimes talent demands opportunity.
It was interesting that it should have been Heskey, whose whole-hearted contribution tonight was laudable, rather than Owen that made way for Rooney. Did Sven want to see how they gelled as partnership? The Everton striker should really have scored with a header after Dyer had shimmied his way to the by-line on 85 minutes but it was not to be...this time.
Steven Gerrard was withdrawn on 65 minutes, no doubt to ensure that England's lucky charm is at peak fitness to contend the midfield battles against Turkey on Wednesday. Tonight he was mature and powerful - a player of immense value to this England team.
Gerrard was soon followed down the tunnel by Becks on 70 minutes, all of which Turkey can take as an indication of how important Sven considers our next fixture to be.
For Liechtenstein it was all about tonight. They kept coming and created many of their best openings in the closing stages. It took vital last-ditch interventions from Southgate, Ferdinand and James to prevent the home side from getting the goal that arguably their play merited. The locals gave their side a standing ovation at the end. This was the biggest game in the country's history.
For England it was rather more a case of job done.
Teams Liechtenstein: Jehle, Telser, D'Elia, Hasler, Michael Stocklasa, Martin Stocklasa, Zech, Buchel, Thomas Beck, Frick, Gerster. Subs: Heeb, Ospelt, Gigon, Ritter, Matthias Beck, Burgmeier, Nigg.
England: James, G Neville, Bridge, Ferdinand, Southgate, Beckham (Murphy), Scholes, Gerrard (Butt), Dyer, Heskey (Rooney), Owen. Subs not used: Robinson, Mills, Woodgate, Vassell. Referee: Georgios Kasnaferis (GRE) Assistants: Andreas Giakoumis (GRE) and Dimitrios Groutsis (GRE) Fourth Official: Georgios Borovilos (GRE) Related Links: 29/03/2003: Sven: It's the 3 points we wanted 29/03/2003: Ralf v Sven