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England beat stubborn Azerbaijan 2-0
Updated: 2005-03-31 08:44

England has needed second-half goals from Steven Gerrard and captain David Beckham to grind out a 2-0 victory over a stubborn Azerbaijan in their World Cup qualifier.

England's David Beckham celebrates his goal against Azerbaijan in their group six World Cup qualifying soccer match at St. James' Park in Newcastle, March 30, 2005. [Reuters]
Gerrard's downward volley on Wednesday broke the deadlock in the 51st minute and Beckham rifled home the second in the 62nd to ensure Sven-Goran Eriksson's men stayed top of Group Six.

Thrashed 8-0 by Poland on Saturday, Azerbaijan were clearly determined to avoid another hiding and defended in numbers to ensure there would be no repeat at St James' Park.

For England, who hit the woodwork three times, the game looked like a re-run of their 4-0 win over Northern Ireland -- deadlocked at halftime after constant pressure before a breakthrough soon after the re-start.

The result means the Group Six leaders have 16 points from six games, one more than second-placed Poland who beat Northern Ireland 1-0 in Warsaw on Wednesday. Azerbaijan stay bottom on two points.

Eriksson admitted it had been hard work. He said: "Football is hard work but we won the game. We scored two, we could have scored a lot.

"We played good football on Saturday and we played good football today. We created a lot of chances and I think we conceded one chance to our opponents in 180 minutes, that's not bad," he told BBC television.

England's Michael Owen (L) reacts after failing to score, as Azerbaijan's Ilgar Abdurakhmanov (R) walks away in their group six World Cup qualifying soccer match at St. James' Park in Newcastle, March 30, 2005. [Reuters]
The only blow for Eriksson was a booking for striker Michael Owen who will be suspended for England's next qualifier away to Wales in September.

The victory was a personal boost for Beckham, under fire recently from some sections of the British media and England fans, but who was cheered off the pitch when he was substituted in the final minutes.

England applied the early pressure but had a major let-off when John Terry miscued an interception to put Azeri skipper Gurban Gurbanov clean through for a shot that whistled just past Paul Robinson's post.

England replied with an Owen header that was just turned away by keeper Dmitry Kramarenko and a Frank Lampard volley that landed wide of the target.

Beckham was unlucky not to score when Owen's close-range header was parried and the ball ricocheted off the England captain on to the post.

Lampard fared no better with a 20-metre curler that hit the same woodwork minutes later and Kramarenko did well to punch away a booming effort from Gerrard.

Owen summed up a frustrating half by heading over the bar with the goal at his mercy after a superb Ashley Cole cross and then having a close-range strike ruled out for off-side.


It was more of the same after the break with Robinson required to pull off a save to Elmar Bakhshiyev's volley before Gerrard finally broke the deadlock.

Wayne Rooney used his skill and strength to burst into the left side of the area and his chip found its way to fellow Merseysider Gerrard for a volley that bounced just under the bar.

Beckham put the result beyond doubt when he beat the off-side trap to collect Lampard's superb long ball forward and lash his shot past Kramarenko.

The woodwork denied England a third time when Rooney's powerful header hit the post, though they were fortunate not to concede when Nadir Nabiyev got in for a close-range shot which Robinson smothered.

The closing stages were all England's as they laid siege to the Azeri goal before settling for a workmanlike victory.

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