European Championship qualifying campaign with a valuable victory in
Bratislava, coming from behind to take all three points courtesy of
two priceless goals from Beckham and Owen.
This was not a classy
performance and it was far from England's best under Sven, but given
the cirumstances and conditions under which the Three Lions finally
prevailed, it must go down as one of the most important of the
The pitch was a real
problem. After incessant rain for two days there had been doubts
about whether the game would be played at all. With the immaculate
standard of surfaces that these England players are used to gracing
on a weekly basis in the Premiership, it immeditaely became apparent
that England's superstars were not to have things all their own way.
This was the biggest game in
Slovakia's short history and, inspired by the fanatical enthusiasm
of 30,000 home supporters, Ladislav Jurkemik's team made some
powerful early surges, often testing Ashley Cole's pace and strength
down their right flank.
Nemeth's dash to the
byeline on 18 minutes caused genuine concern in the English
rearguard and it was a relief to see Steven Gerrard's last-ditch
clearance fly just wide of David Seaman's upright.
The Slovaks sensed their
opportunity and went for it. Janocko raced past Neville and, as
the ball seemed to be rolling out of play, he wrapped his left
foot around it to flight a perfect cross to the far post where
Pinte rose high to power a header back into the six-yard box. Of
course it had to be the English-based Nemeth who got the goal,
pivoting expertly to strike a firm 24th minute shot past the
The crowd went crazy and
England had confirmation that they had a real game on their hands. A
Beckham free-kick which was well saved by Konig and a good Butt
strike which went inches wide provided England with an immediate
riposte - but it wasn't enough to dampen the new-found confidence of
either the Slovak team or their followers.
With half-an-hour still
remaining, the home fans could see a historic victory looming and
warmed a bitterly cold night with an ecstatic Mexican wave.
England needed something badly...and quickly. The man of the hour,
once again, was skipper Beckham. Taking a free-kick some 35 yards
out on the left, he curled the ball viciously towards the far
corner of the goal. Just the sight of Owen's forward thrust was
enough to put the 'keeper off and he simply watched, flat-footed,
as the ball bounced along into the net.
Into the last 15 minutes
Sven had a shot at victory, sending on Kieron Dyer in place of
Gerrard. England gre stronger, snatching the upper hand arguably
for the first time in the game. Suddenly Slovakia appeared
vulnerable instead of forceful, worry replaced confidence and
England knew it.
On 82 minutes Paul Scholes
sprinted to the right-hand byeline and whipped in a cross for
Owen. This time Liverpool's ace marksman did get a touch, nudging
the ball home at the near post. There are few strikers in the
world that you would rather have on your side when you are looking
for a match-winning goal. - The Football Association Yearbook
2003-04, pp40 & 42
Violence mars England victory
England fans have
been involved in violence during a Euro 2004 qualifying match
against Slovakia in Bratislava. The trouble apparently started
when visiting fans in the stands behind one goal began hurling
missiles at nearby Slovakian supporters. Some even tried to
scale the flimsy metal fence separating them from their rivals, who
were celebrating Szilard Nemeth's goal, putting them 1-0 up in the
24th minute. Just before half-time, as seats were being
thrown, police wearing riot helmets and wielding batons forced
England supporters to retreat.
announcements in English urged the visiting fans to behave.
The second half passed off peacefully and England went on to score
two goals, both from Michael Owen, to clinch the tie. The
violence came as police in Bratislava investigating the shooting of
two England football fans questioned a pair of private security
workers. Phil Holland, 31, from Worcester, was shot in the leg
while Gareth Jones, 30, from Coventry, was shot in the throat.
He was undergoing
surgery to remove a bullet, but is said to be in a stable condition.
Police said the manager of a bar in the city centre called a
security service to remove about 60 England fans after they had
reportedly been trying to pull their own pints of beer.
Security guards opened fire, said police spokeswoman Marta Bujnakova.
Police found 16 cartridges in the bar and have detained two security
officers, but are still searching for another. Mr Holland, a
tiler, said: "We had been in the pub in the main square and were
walking towards a nightclub when we heard some shots being fired.
"At first they
seemed to be firing into the air. We all moved away from the
noise - but then I suddenly realised I had been shot in the leg."
A friend of Mr Jones, Andy Harvey, added: "We were walking towards
the Carlton Hotel, where the England team are staying, just after
midnight, looking for a taxi, when there was a bit of a slanging
match between English and Slovakian fans, then suddenly six shots
rang out. "We ran for it, but Gareth pulled up saying, 'I
think I've been shot'." Police believe the shot had ricocheted
into Mr Jones' neck and that he was "very unlucky".
As he was being
taken from intensive care, Mr Jones said the operation he was due to
undergo was "quite straightforward". In the hours before
kick-off, another three England fans were detained by police at one
of the city's biggest hotels, the Forum. Meanwhile in Prague,
the capital of the Czech Republic through which many fans going to
the game travelled, 10 England fans were arrested after severe
damage was caused to a lap-dancing bar. The National Criminal
Intelligence Service said the violence was believed to have stemmed
from an argument about the non-payment of a bill.