England restored their challenge for an automatic qualifying berth for UEFA EURO 2004™ after overcoming an edgy start to beat Liechtenstein 2-0 on Saturday.
Following a 2-2 home draw against F.Y.R. Macedonia in their previous Group 7 qualifier, England needed to rediscover their winning ways and a first-half Michael Owen header, along with a trademark free-kick from captain David Beckham eight minutes after the interval, secured a workmanlike victory. The result consolidated England's hold on second place in the section's standings with seven points from three games, two behind leaders Turkey. England face Turkey on Wednesday in a match that may go a long way to deciding the outcome of the group.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd of 3,548 inside the Rheinstadion in Vaduz, Liechtenstein began brightly. Hellas-Verona FC's Mario Frick sent a volley narrowly wide and the winger then had another sharp shot saved by goalkeeper David James as the hosts, who have won only one competitive international, threatened to open the scoring.
Owen on target
England struggled to inject any fluidity into their play but did take the lead after 28 minutes following their best move of the opening period. Beckham found Emile Heskey on the right and the Liverpool FC striker crossed for his club team-mate Owen who headed powerfully into the net for his 20th goal for England on his 46th appearance.
The visitors' dominance continued after half-time and a second goal duly arrived on 53 minutes, when Beckham beat the Liechtenstein defensive wall and goalkeeper with a superb curling 20-metre free kick. It was The Manchester United FC winger's tenth goal for England and his last telling contribution before he was withdrawn, with 20 minutes remaining, and replaced by Danny Murphy.
'A professional, good job'
Liechtenstein almost grabbed a late consolation but Thomas Beck had a shot headed off the line and midfield player Martin Stocklasa stretched to hit a volley against a post. England held on to take maximum points, leaving coach Sven-Göran Eriksson to remark: "At least there were the three points, it was a professional, good job. Maybe a lack of concentration - in the last ten to 15 minutes we gave them a couple of chances, we shouldn't have done. But it was a good three points and a secure win."
‘Not the necessary luck’
Eriksson's opposite number, Ralf Loose, was philosophical in defeat. "My team played extraordinarily well, we attacked bravely, we had a lot of chances but not the necessary luck," he said. "I thought we deserved a goal. But we didn't see David versus Goliath tonight."