Sunday, September 09, 2007

Three Lions, three goals

Congratulations to Michael Owen, whose splendid long-range (well, by his own standards, at least) shot on the turn into the top corner of the net helped England cruise to a comfortable 3-0 win over Israel in the crucial European Championship qualifier at the rebuilt Wembley, their first victory there.

In truth, Owen could and probably should have had a hat-trick. Played in by Joe Cole in the first half, he smashed the ball straight into 'keeper Dudu Aouate's face and then sliced the follow-up horribly high and wide. In the second period, he collected a clever through-ball from substitute Andy Johnson, rounded Aouate but saw his shot brilliantly cleared off the line.

Johnson had rather inexplicably come on for the surprisingly effective Emile Heskey, and given that Steven Gerrard was taken off once the result was safe, I can't imagine Fat Sam will have been too happy to see Owen left on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. The decision doesn't make a great deal of sense from an England perspective, either, if Owen's expected to lead the line again on Wednesday night against Russia.

Elsewhere, Shay Given had a very busy night in Slovakia, but couldn't prevent Marek Cech scoring in the last minute to salvage his side a point with a 2-2 draw. Given's club colleague David Rozehnal expended rather less energy as the Czech Republic easily beat San Marino 3-0. The Irish now need to win the battle of the two Republics on Wednesday night to stand any chance of qualification.

Also on international duty was Emre, who played as Turkey twice came from behind to get a 2-2 draw against Malta. With Nicky Butt and Geremi Allardyce's current favoured pairing in central midfield, and Joey Barton soon to return from injury, it may be a while before he sees serious action for his club.

One Newcastle player who didn't feature for his national side was Obafemi Martins, allowed to leave the Nigerian training camp to be with his ill child in Italy. Hopefully all will be well and he can return to Tyneside without any distractions, but at least we know Owen's very close to being back to his lethal best.


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