England are a point away from the UEFA EURO 2004™ finals but were made to work for a 2-0 victory against Liechtenstein.
The home team secured a record eighth straight win and will only need to draw in Turkey on 11 October to win Group 7. David Beckham and Steven Gerrard both started for England despite only being a booking away from a suspension - though in the end neither were cautioned - with the captain making a return to his former club home of Old Trafford.
Bar struck twice
Michael Owen went close on five minutes as Liechtenstein, with only one point in the group, settled into defence. England went on to twice hit the crossbar in the half as first Wayne Bridge's cross was headed on to the woodwork by Beckham, and then the captain himself crossed for Southampton FC striker James Beattie to shoot on to the underside of the bar.
However, the home side were unable to find a way through their hard-working visitors in the first 45 minutes. At the other end, England goalkeeper David James had barely been troubled. Two second-half goals had turned defeat into victory for England on Saturday in F.Y.R. Macedonia, and so it was again in Manchester as a seven-minute scoring burst secured them the three points.
The first man on target was Owen, as he stooped down to head in a cross from Liverpool FC team-mate Gerrard. It was Owen's 24th goal for England, taking him level with the man who scored a FIFA World Cup final hat-trick in 1966, Geoff Hurst.
Rooney on target
Wayne Rooney, who had replaced Owen as England's youngest goalscorer four days previously, claimed another soon after as Owen found Beckham, whose cross was headed down by Gerrard for the Everton FC player to turn in to cap a fine performance.
After that, with Beckham and Gerrard substituted to ensure their eligibility for Turkey, England sat back and nearly conceded a goal in the last minute when Mario Frick forced James to save, although Owen and Beattie had both gone close at the other end.
"We were very professional," said England manager
Sven-Göran Eriksson. "We could have scored more but we only conceded one shot on goal. Rooney has been doing very well in the role behind the strikers, scoring two goals in two games and playing very good football. We will see him score more goals in the future. People talk about Turkey but we had to beat Liechtenstein first."