David Beckham and Michael Owen struck second-half goals to lift England to a 2-1 EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 7 victory against Slovakia on a sodden pitch in Bratislava.
England turned the match around with a courageous second-half display after going behind to a 24th-minute goal from Szilárd Nemeth - a player who plies his trade in England with Middlesbrough FC - in a match where the visitors struggled to come to terms with the wet conditions and their tag of group favourites. However, Beckham equalised from a long-range free-kick in the 64th minute and then Owen stooped to head an 82nd-minute winner.
Turkey on top
Owen had been widely credited with the first England goal as he appeared to get the faintest of touches when the ball flew past Miroslav König and into the Slovakian net. But the Liverpool FC striker said after the match he had not made contact. England lie second in the section standings on three points, three behind FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Turkey who have won their first two games.
The hosts started the game brightly, their slick play creating an early chance for Robert Vittek. Only a late intervention from Gareth Southgate prevented Slovakia from taking the lead on that occasion but the Middlesbrough defender could do little to prevent his club-mate Nemeth striking the first blow - the Slovakia striker slamming the ball past David Seaman after Vladimír Janocko pulled the ball back from the left by-line.
England had a chance to level almost immediately, but goalkeeper König was equal to a Beckham free-kick. Ten minutes later, Beckham should have equalised but chose to chip König from close range when a drive was perhaps the better option. England, and Beckham, were a different proposition after the break, Paul Scholes' move into the centre giving the midfield balance and a greater cutting edge as the Slovakians were made to scrap for little possession.
Decisive second goal
However, Nemeth nearly found the decisive second goal, only the agility of England's pony-tailed goalkeeper David Seaman keeping him at bay. The miss proved costly when Beckham's lofted free-kick from the left evaded König, put off no doubt by Owen who all but got a touch. Slovakia continued to threaten and England ran the gauntlet before Owen grabbed the winner after Paul Scholes had cut the ball back from the right.
Relief for Eriksson
Slovakian captian Peter Dzúrik failed to intercept and the striker ducked down to head in from point-blank range. The strike led to a series of desperate assaults on the England goal which were repelled only by a combination of desperate clearances and blocks by the 39-year-old Seaman. For England, who will need a much more composed performance against F.Y.R. Macedonia on Wednesday at Southampton, it was enough to collect the three points and deny the Slovakians, who had been beaten 3-0 by Turkey last month.