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Eriksson gamble pays dividends

Published: Thursday 3 April 2003, 9.14CET
England's team selection and substitutions proved crucial against Turkey.
Published: Thursday 3 April 2003, 9.14CET

Eriksson gamble pays dividends

England's team selection and substitutions proved crucial against Turkey.
England's players and their Swedish coach Sven-Göran Eriksson have been criticised in recent times for what was perceived as a lack of passion. In beating Turkey 2-0 in a vital UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifier in Sunderland last night, Eriksson's men answered their critics with a display of ferocious commitment that brought them a thoroughly deserved success.

Eriksson took a gamble in picking the 17-year-old Everton FC striker Wayne Rooney to partner Michael Owen in place of Emile Heskey, who played against Liechtenstein on Saturday. Nicky Butt was also recalled as a midfield anchor in a 4-1-3-2 formation while Sol Campbell returned from injury to replace Gareth Southgate.

Strong running
Turkey, such a revelation in finishing third in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, opted for a fluid 4-4-2 system, with coach Senol Günes hoping to embarrass England with the pace of Nihat Kahveci and Ilhan Manziz up front, and the strong running of Yildiray Bastürk just behind them.

Frantic and tense
The action was frantic and tense throughout. England built up constant pressure with their high-tempo combination play, and it was immediately clear that Eriksson had called correctly in giving the teenager Rooney his chance. The precocious youngster caused numerous problems with his pace, power and running, and despite enjoying less of the first-half possession England should have been ahead by the interval - Owen (twice) and captain David Beckham missing chances as the Turkish defence wobbled.

Team ethic
Turkey's recent successes have been built on a strong team ethic, excellent passing skills and an astute and hard-working midfield. When the visitors did get forward, it was the direct running of Bastürk from behind the strikers that looked most threatening.

Reçber heroics
For most of the evening though Turkey were preoccupied with keeping their goal intact against an England side who looked utterly determined to silence their critics. For a long period, it looked as though the home team would be frustrated by experienced visiting goalkeeper Rüstu Reçber, who produced a string of tremendous saves as his rearguard came under a prolonged second-half barrage.

Few arguments
However, with England's attacking midfield trio of Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes in strident form, and full-back Wayne Bridge producing an impressive display on the left flank to gave the hosts much-needed width, there could be few arguments with the result after England finally breached the Turkish dam.

Late flurry
Eriksson's substitutions also paid handsome dividends. Darius Vassell, who came on for the injured Owen, broke the deadlock with 16 minutes left, and Kieron Dyer, introduced to shore up the England midfield late on, won the last-gasp penalty converted by Beckham. Turkey brought on their record international scorer Hakan Sükür and roused themselves for a late flurry which saw home goalkeeper David James make a wonderful save to deny Nihat, but anything other than an England win on the night would have been rough justice.

'Absolutely fantastic'
"The performance today was absolutely fantastic - a good first half and an even better second half. Against very difficult opponents, we played really very good football," said a relieved Eriksson after the game. "We performed below our capacity and could not respond to the desire of the England team," was Günes’s pragmatic appraisal. "The team who wanted to win most won the game."

KEY PLAYER: Wayne Rooney (England)
A remarkably assured debut for one so young. Rooney was far from over-awed, and gave the England attack an injection of aggression and flair that they had struggled to find in recent matches. "After today I can't see any reason to leave him out," said Eriksson. "But it's up to him as well to show that he can go on playing like this."

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