In the four days since England played Wales, the headlines have been dominated by David Beckham's admission that he deliberately lashed out at
Wales' Ben Thatcher during the game on Saturday in order to get a yellow card. Beckham 'retaliated' for a challenge by Thatcher in which the England captain was left
with two fractured ribs. Realising that he would be out of tonight's game with an injury, Beckham's contact with Thatcher earned him a yellow card meaning he
would be suspended for the game against Azerbaijan on yellow card accumulation. Probably smart thinking on the part of Beckham, although
unsportsmanly, to get the suspension out of the way whilst injured, however not so clever in telling the world about it! There is now concern that
Beckham will receive further punishment from FIFA for his unsportsman-like conduct. The fact for England is that they were without their play-maker for
the game in Azerbaijan. Michael Owen got the nod to take over as captain.
The conditions in Azerbaijan were far from ideal - bitterly cold temperatures and a biting gale force wind. Still, England had a job to do
and they took away three points from Baku. England had a few promising moments prior to Owen's goal thanks to attempts by Jenas and Lampard.
The first opportunity in the game though fell to Azerbaijan in the first minute, but the tame shot didn't cause any problems for Robinson. The goal
came after the visitors played some nice passing football, moving the ball from right to left with Ashley Cole playing a perfect cross to
Owen who headed the ball into the net, passed Hasanzade who got his right hand to the ball but couldn't stop England from taking the lead.
While Azerbaijan looked solid in the middle of the field, their final touch goalwards was lacking. Into the second half England were
awarded a free-kick from 35 yards which was taken by Lampard, however the Chelsea player saw his blazing shot tip over the bar by
Hasanzade. Robinson wasn't tested by the Azerbaijan forwards tonight as England held on to their early lead for a win in diffult conditions.
England did try to capitalise on their one goal advantage but efforts were not fruitful. It was another solid performance by England with Jenas
taking over Beckham's role and Rooney still causing trouble up front.
England now have a break from World Cup qualifying. They don't play a competitive match until 26 March when they face Northern Ireland. Before
this year ends however, they have a friendly against Spain to play in Madrid next month.
Hasanzade #1, Amirbekov #2, E Guliyev #5 (I Gurbanov 75 mins - #18), Hajiyev #3, Kerimov #8, Sadygov #14, Shukurov #4, K Guliyev #6, Aliyev #17 (G Gurbanov 59 mins - #9),
Nabiev #11 (Abdullayev 79 mins - #15), Ponomarev #10.
Subs Not Used: Mekhtiev #12, Abbasov #13, Mamedov #16, M Gurbanov #7.
Robinson #1, Campbell #6, A Cole #3, Ferdinand #5, G Neville #2, Butt #4, Jenas #7 (Wright-Phillips 72 mins, #17), Lampard #8, Defoe #11
(Smith 55 mins - #18), Owen #10, Rooney #9 (J Cole 84 mins - #16).
Subs Not Used: James #13, King #12, Terry #14, Hargreaves #15. (Full Squad)
England Goal: Owen (22 mins)
Azerbaijan Cautions: K Guliyev (30 mins), Sadygov (79 mins)
England Cautions: Rooney (39 mins), A Cole (71 mins), Butt (78 mins)
Referee: Alain Hamer (Luxembourg)