England duly delivered the victory Sven-Goran Eriksson desired in Vaduz last night in advance of their crucial Euro 2004 qualifying showdown with Turkey in three days' time. But panache and style were not to be found. We were treated to another dreadful England performance against a poor side. After stuttering performances against Slovakia and Macedonia, when beginning the group England struggled to impose their presence in this tiny Alpine principality during the first half. Their superior pedigree against Liechtenstein's part-timers eventually told in the second half, but a much sharper showing will be expected against Turkey at Sunderland on Wednesday evening.
England had an early let-off when an in-swinging free-kick was headed just wide much to the relief of Rio Ferdinand, who
was poorly positioned and out jumped. David James meanwhile was in no-man's land. Emile Heskey was the first to threaten the home goal when he just failed to reach a cross from Owen after sending his Anfield team-mate clear down the wing. England began to look more positive and Kieron Dyer, filling the problem position on the left side of midfield, made a 50-yard burst, but his final delivery was poor, and Peter Jehle easily cut it out. Dyer may well be good running with the ball and his desire for a place leads him to show willingness to play out of position. But for all his apparent enthusiasm there is no point in him playing on the left if he is reluctant to cross with his left foot. It is truly embarrassing to
imagine other nations watching our high profile superstars look no better than pub players such is there discomfort with 50% of their footballing armoury. Dyer, naturally right-footed, tends to cut inside a little too often making him predictable, easy to defend against.
It needed someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck for Eriksson's team who clearly looked ruffled. After 27 minutes David Beckham at last took the initiative, picking out Heskey on the right edge of the penalty area and his cross
was powerfully headed home by Owen. It was Owen's 20th goal for his country and could not have been better timed given his side's uncertain start. Beckham soon had a chance to double England's lead when he burst through to meet a chip from Steven Gerrard but, untypically, his control let him down and Jehle collected comfortably. Beckham tried to redeem himself by releasing Heskey with a ball over the top, but the Liverpool striker opted to shoot instead of simply heading the ball beyond Jehle and he ended up in an untidy heap. Half-hearted appeals for a penalty were rightly rejected.
As half-time approached, Beckham tried his luck with a 30-yard free-kick and Jehle again demonstrated his agility as he tipped his curling effort round a post. England were at last taking charge and Owen should have put them further ahead two minutes after the interval, his instinctive shot from Dyer's measured pass ricocheting off Jehle's legs. It looked bad only 1-0 up and the home keeper was having the game of his life.
The pattern continued in the second half though it was more through Heskey's attempt to kick the ball out of the country
that Englandís frustration grew. It was left to the tireless Beckham to make the game safe. It was yet another trademark
free-kick from the England captain, bending the ball round the wall and in off a post with Jehle, on this occasion, a mere spectator. Liechtenstein were nothing if not game and the impressive Frick suddenly sped past Paul Scholes and Gareth Southgate only to fire a fierce drive off target. Nevertheless, Eriksson felt confident enough of victory to withdraw Gerrard and Beckham with over 20 minutes still remaining. A flutter of excitement was later raised when Wayne Rooney was brought on for Heskey. The 17-year-old had 11 minutes to make his mark but, when his chance came, he mistimed his header from Dyer's cross.
Jehle, Telser, D'Elia, Hasler, Michael Stocklasa, Martin Stocklasa, Zech (Burgmeier 62 mins), Buchel (Matthias Beck 86 mins), Thomas Beck, Frick (Nigg 82 mins), Gerster.
Subs Not Used: Heeb, Ospelt, Gigon, Ritter.
James, G Neville, Ferdinand, Southgate, Bridge, Beckham (Murphy 70 mins), Scholes, Gerrard (Butt 65 mins), Dyer, Heskey (Rooney 80 mins), Owen.
Subs Not Used: Robinson, Mills, Woodgate, Vassell. (Full Squad)
England Goals: Owen (28 mins), Beckham (53 mins)
Liechtenstein Caution: Zech
Referee: George Kasnaferis (Greece)