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Owen heads England to victory
Jonathan Wilson | October 14, 2004 11:04 IST
A header by stand-in captain Michael Owen midway through the first half gave England an edgy but satisfactory 1-0 win over Azerbaijan in a wind-lashed World Cup Group Six qualifier on Wednesday.
Owen, wearing the armband in place of the suspended David Beckham, was denied a goal against Wales on Saturday when it was decided the deflection he got on a Frank Lampard shot was insufficient for the strike to be awarded to him.
With strong winds making constructive football difficult, England struggled for any cohesiveness but with Rio Ferdinand supremely composed and commanding at the back they never looked in danger.
Their second win in four days puts them in charge of the group with 10 points from four games -- having played three times away and once at home.
Azerbaijan's 50th competitive international since joining FIFA 10 years ago - a decade that has brought them just four wins - and while they didn't stop running all night to keep England on their toes, they never looked remotely like making it five wins and are already out of contention with just two points from four games.
The only slightly sour note came as an Azerbaijani fan who ran onto the field in the closing minutes, and raced from one box to the other before being tackled by the England goalkeeper Paul Robinson.
After a day of heavy rain and driving winds the match got the go-ahead only an hour before kickoff and the conditions made matters difficult for both sides.
Jermaine Jenas, making his first start as a replacement for Beckham, was immediately into the action as he crossed for Jermain Defoe after two minutes but the striker miskicked from point-blank range.
England took the lead when Cole delivered a tempting cross from the left which Owen, left unmarked six metres out, calmly dispatched for his 28th goal in his 65th international.
The goal settled the visitors' nerves and they enjoyed a good spell of possession, though without looking dangerous.
Azerbaijan grew in confidence in the second half but showed a lack of composure in possession, sometimes shooting from up to 40 metres out.
Robinson had to be alert much closer to home in the 54th minute, however, when he used his feet to scramble the ball clear from Samir Aliyev.
The home fans raised their hopes, bringing some atmosphere to the sodden, roofless Tofik Bakhramov stadium - named after the Azerbaijani linesman who famously declared that the second goal of Geoff Hurst's 1966 World Cup final hat-trick had crossed the line after bouncing down off the West German bar.
England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson responded by sending on Alan Smith and Shaun Wright-Phillips for Defoe and Jenas in a bid to add more zest the attack but neither man was able to make an impact.
Owen had half a chance to double his and England's tally a minute from time after a defensive blunder but the striker, struggling to get a game at Real Madrid, was unable to fashion a shot.
Nevertheless, Owen was content with his and his team mates' night's work.
"It was always going to be a difficult game away from home," he said.
"It would have been nice to score a couple but the conditions, the pitch, and it was freezing cold out... but overall six points from the two games and sitting pretty on top of the standings is fine.
"I don't think the public will be satisfied with 1-0 win, we could have played better, but if you had said a 1-0 win before the game we would have taken it."