England's impassioned response

April 3, 2003
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

The 'insulting' pre-match insinuations that England's players lacked passion seemed to do the trick for Wednesday night's Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey.

Second-half goals from substitute Darius Vassell and skipper David Beckham gave England an inspired 2-0 win over World Cup semi-finalists Turkey at the Stadium of Light to move Sven Goran Eriksson's side top of group four - one point clear of the Turks.

Job done, critics answered. The lacklustre Liechtenstein performance has been put well in the past and we can all re-apply our rose-tinted glasses and fickly claim that England are once again world beaters.

But it didn't look like going England's way from the kick-off.

For the first 30 nail-biting minutes of the match, billed as England's biggest test since the World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, Turkey found space all over the pitch and harried the England defence as they looked favourites to net the opening goal.

England's only real chance came from a mistake by out-of-form goalkeeper Recber Rustu when he spilled the ball in the box, only for Beckham lashed it wide after a scramble. Other than that England looked like they were struggling.

But as it turned out this was all just setting the scene for the hero of the hour to step forward.

England manager Sven Goran Eriksson had taken the gamble on starting 17-year-old Wayne Rooney ahead of Liverpool striker Emile Heskey and as the half neared its close the young Everton starlet sparked into life.

Some superb ball-juggling was followed by a sweeping ball to Steven Gerrard on the right who fired in a cross only for Liverpool team-mate Michael Owen, who had picked up a back injury earlier in the game, to miskick.

There was more Rooney inspiration just before the break when the teenager embarked on a great mazy run into the heart of the Turkish defence. He slipped a glorious pass inside to Owen, who tried to skip past Rustu only for the keeper to get a hand to the ball.

Rooney's antics proved the catalyst for a change of gear by England and after the break the home side dominated the match without hitting the back of the net.

It looked like it could have been one of those nights until Darius Vassell, on as a 58th minute substitute for Owen, broke the deadlock.

The Aston Villa striker had looked lively since his introduction and after forcing Rustu into a save from a snapshot he steered home a rebound from a Rio Ferdinand volley to give England a 75th minute lead.

Beckham eventually sealed the win with an injury time penalty, after 89th minute substitute Kieron Dyer had been dubiously hauled down in the box, but the headlines belonged to Rooney.

The Everton striker had lifted the team with his youthful exuberance and terrified the Turks with his direct style. He may have scuffed his big chance to make history as England's youngest ever goalscorer, but he still has about 80 days to break Owen's record and on this performance you wouldn't back against it.

Team performance

But it was more than a one man show and the whole team actually played like one.

Goalkeeper David James may have rode his luck a little with some near calamitous efforts to claim crosses but when it mattered the big stopper made the saves. The Hammers keeper pulled off a full length save to deny Yildiray Basturk and a tremendous stop to deny Kahveci Nihat a late header at 1-0.

In front of goal right-back Gary Neville had a steady game up against Inter Milan's 'new Maradona' Emre Belozoglu. The Manchester United defender may have struggled early on against the accomplished leftsided midfielder but he eventually snuffed out the threat to allow England to push forward.

Along side Neville, team-mate Rio Ferdinand enjoyed a charmed life. The £30m centre-back looked far too casual and his frequent mistakes escaped punishment time after time. But his volley did set up Vassell for the opening goal.

Sol Campbell returned alongside Ferdinand after recovering from an achilles injury and the Arsenal defender was a rock at the back. He consistently won everything in the air and snubbed out the considerable threat of Real Sociedad forward Nihat.

On the left of the back four Southampton's Wayne Bridge struggled to get into the game early on but stuck to his task of pushing forward past England's midfield diamond and supplied the vital cross for Vassell's goal.

Captain Beckham was keen to show his passion straight from the off and picked up a needless booking - he will now miss the game away to Slovakia in June 7. The Manchester United midfielder's work ethic was second to none but his crossing was surprisingly woeful by his own standards. However, he did keep his cool when it counted to slot home from the penalty spot for England's injury time clincher.

Red Devil's team-mate Nicky Butt, Sven's player of the World Cup for England, came back into the side to play the role of anchorman to perfection. He was never afraid to get stuck in, despite twisting an ankle early on, and the only criticism could be the sporadically creative side of his game.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard was asked to fill the left side of England's midfield diamond and eventually adapted to the role to give a typically gritty performance. However, his passes failed to find their targets far too often.

Paul Scholes had a busy game behind the strikers but often failed to get behind the Turkish defence and didn't deliver any of the moments of brilliance to which we have become accustomed. That's 19 games without a goal for the attacking midfielder, a worrying statistic.

Also slightly worrying was Owen's inability to find a finish after working hard to get himself into goal scoring positions. He scuffed two great chances to test Rustu and eventually resorted to diving before injury forced him out of the game.

It was a frustrating night for England's big name striker but for manager Sven Goran Eriksson it was anything but.

His gamble to play public favourite Rooney paid off and a high profile victory has ensured the Swede's job is safe once again - at least until the next poor performance.

The Swede also managed to keep England's unbeaten record against the Turks intact. More than that, Turkey have still failed to score a single goal in nine attempts against England.


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