Owen hands Russia tough lesson
Owen's first-half double laid the foundations for an exhilarating 3-0 win over Russia at Wembley at the Euro-2008 qualifiers on Wednesday.sports Updated: Sep 13, 2007 12:29 IST
Guus Hiddink admitted Michael Owen had given his side a masterclass in clinical finishing after watching the England striker put the boot into Russia's chances of reaching Euro 2008.
Owen's first-half double laid the foundations for an exhilarating 3-0 win at Wembley which has left Steve McClaren's revitalised squad as favourites to qualify for next year's finals along with group E leaders Croatia.
Rio Ferdinand's late strike rounded off McClaren's best night in charge of England after Russia had squandered a couple of good chances early in the second half.
That left former South Korea and Australia boss Hiddink with no doubt about where the game had been lost.
"You can say the 3-0 score is too high, but it reflects the difference between the two teams," the Dutchman said.
"We tried to go forward and play attractive football but England were very effective in taking the chances they created.
"We did not have the final pass or touch to make England very frightened. Just after half-time we had one or two occasions. That makes the difference -- if we could have made a goal then, they might have started to panic a little bit.
"This Russia team is still in development and it is good to have these games, but it is a tough lesson for them. We were a little bit naive."
England boss Steve McClaren admitted there had been times when Russia had dominated and acknowledged the extent of his debt to Owen, whose 39th and 40th England goals on his 85th international appearance mean he has scored five in his last four games for club and country.
The Newcastle striker is well on the way to confounding those who said he would never be the same player again after missing virtually all of last season and half the preceding one with serious injuries.
"Never write him off -- I said that weeks ago," McClaren beamed. "He's now scored in his last four games. He has come back fitter and sharper. It was not just his goals, it was his all-round play, dropping in and linking up. He was working hard and the partnership with (Emile) Heskey has really worked over the last two games."
Heskey's performances against Israel and Russia have fully vindicated McClaren's decision to recall him to the national squad three years after his last appearance for his country.
His physical prowess helped unsettle a Russian defence that was badly at fault on all of England's goals and it was the Wigan forward's knock-on that allowed an unmarked Owen to smash in his second goal, just after half an hour.
The first had come after only six minutes, the Russian defence allowing the striker to gather Gareth Barry's chip unimpeded in the middle of their goalmouth.
Hiddink declined to criticise the referee over what was a finely-balanced decision to disallow what would have been a Russian equaliser shortly after the opener, Konstantin Zyryanov being adjudged to have controlled the ball with the help of his arm.
The Dutchman said: "I want to see the images to have a fair and clear judgement about the referee's decision. But it was a pity. It would have been a very good reward because we were pressing and they were panicking at that stage. It was key in the game."
The defeat leaves the Russians in third place in group E, two points adrift of England with three games left to play. But Hiddink insisted that, with England due in Moscow next month, nothing had been decided yet.
"We get them now in Moscow in October and they have to face Croatia as well. It is a tough qualification group and it will be decided at the end, not in September.
"We have to win in Moscow, that is for sure. Of course we are confident at home as we were tonight in various parts of the game."
McClaren was delighted his side had followed up Saturday's 3-0 defeat of Israel with their best performance since he succeeded Sven-Goran Eriksson after last year's World Cup.
"We said at the start of the ten days that we wanted six points and I'd have taken two scrappy 1-0 wins," McClaren said. "But I'm greatly satisfied by the performances.
"We'll enjoy this but we know we've still got three games to go and we can get better."
The pattern of the match could have been very different had Russia been able to take their chances.
Their captain Andrey Arshavin failed to capitalise when John Terry gifted him an opening with the score at 1-0 and Dmitry Sychev pulled a close-range chance wide just after the restart.
But England, for the most part, looked comfortable in defending their lead and Ferdinand wrapped things up seven minutes from time.