Sometimes football can seem very easy. You just pick your best eleven players, trying to get as many of them to play in positions they are comfortable with and suited to, and send them out to play. It helps if you have a game plan, if you donít waste the opportunities that come your way and if your players play to their strengths. Thatís the theory. If it were that simple England would not have made beating Turkey look easier work than defeating the part timers of Liechtenstein. But England did and now lead Group Seven in the Euro 2004 qualifiers. They are back as flavor of the month just in time for the launch of the new home strip.
England played with a verve and passion that seems to have deserted them since Sapporo and Argentina. The tempo was high; the passing crisp, it was almost as if Englandís millionaires had decided that this was a proper match worthy of their trouble. Where on Saturday hopeful balls were lobbed forward, tonight they were crisply struck, ready to be flicked or held. Runs were made and it seemed as if Englandís sheer force of will might cover up the fact that the Turks looked a lot more comfortable on the ball.
Eriksson's reputation as a tactician was partially restored by reintroducing Nicky Butt as a stabilising presence at the
base of midfield and by the boldness that saw Wayne Rooney in the starting line-up for the first time. The sometime
Everton forward, (heís 17 you know) was not perfection and nor should he be with his experience but his infectious joy and fearlessness appeared to carry to the rest of the team, even Gary Neville had a shot. Rooney played with the excitement all of us watching believe we would bring to the white shirt - if only we were good enough to wear it.
Having weathered the early storm and created the best chances of the first half England would have been pleased with their performance if not the 0-0 scoreline at half time. The Turks had for long periods dominated the midfield even encouraging Englandís luminaries to a nasty bout of tugging, tripping, shoving and barging which the referee did well to adjudicate.
With Owen picking up an injury after a performance that deserved a goal his nearly clone came on. Though short of first
team experience, Darius Vassell was a livewire substitute and snapped up the chance that put England ahead in the 76th
minute. Wayne Bridge pumped in a cross from the left which Rio Ferdinand stabbed against Goalkeeper Rustu; the Aston Villa forward was alert in tucking away the rebound. Sadly the crowd, who had engaged in some disgraceful chants, felt the need
to mob the England players pitch side. That incident will further increase Uefaís attention on the down side of England involvement in big tournaments.
Soon afterwards David James had his moment, stretching behind himself, he grazed a header away with remarkable suppleness.
James took his chance well and now has two competitive clean sheets the second of far more value than the first. But a
suspicion remains that Eriksson will return to the experience of Seaman if given the chance.
Late on Kieron Dyer appeared and was seemingly under instructions just to run at players. He is a useful weapon when used
against tired legs having lost his role in the team because Eriksson opted to re-introduce a diamond pattern to midfield. Gerrard steadily adapted to his loose role on the left and Beckham revelled in the invitation to hurtle forward while Butt covered. There was no place for Dyer there and nor should there be. He is a useful impact player but he should not be asked to play on the left again. Tonight he showed where and how he can best be used. Charging into the box and causing havoc.
He was curtailed by Ergun and another England penalty was converted. Beckham has now scored in every qualifying match in
this tournament. His prowess from dead ball situations is well known but his skill seems no more preventable for its world wide fame.
Though there is a steely, irresponsible side to Beckham - an array of fouls by the captain brought him a booking by the
ninth minute and he will be suspended when Slovakia arrive in June. It is a trade-off which Eriksson would have accepted beforehand. Though Beckham lacked restraint and displayed petulance unbecoming of an England captain, it was essential that England ruffled the smooth midfield that is Turkey's great asset.
During and after the game there were clashes and hostility. That was regrettable, yet Eriksson's side could not have afforded to be sedate. After the derision for their somnambulistic display in Liechtenstein, no one can easily disparage the passion that had such a legitimate impact on the game. Even Eriksson, in his own way, played rough.
Emile Heskey was dumped on the bench so that Rooney could take part. If he was aggrieved, consider Gareth Southgate's mood. He was good enough for 90 minutes in Vaduz but the only room found for him here was in the stands. Was the demotion his punishment for weekend questioning of the manager's style? Southgate may wonder if he will ever be in the squad again. England and their adolescent superstar are top of the group.
James, G Neville, Ferdinand, Campbell, Bridge, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Gerrard, Rooney (Dyer 89 mins), Owen (Vassell 58 mins).
Subs Not Used: Mills, Robinson, Woodgate, Lampard, Heskey. (Full Squad)
Rustu, Aykel Fatih (Sukur 79 mins), Alpay, Korkmaz, Ergun, Buruk (Davala 59 mins), Basturk (Sas 70 mins), Tugay, Asik Emre,
Subs Not Used: Omer, Deniz, Ahmet, Korkut.
England Goals: Vassell (76 mins), Beckham (PK 90+2 mins)
England Caution: Beckham
Turkey Cautions: Buruk, Aykel Fatih, Korkmaz
Referee: U Meier (Switzerland)