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England 3-0 Russia: Hero Owen hits 40thPA

Michael Owen hit 'The Big 40' as England took a mighty stride towards Euro 2008 with a clinical dismissal of Guus Hiddink's Russia.

Michael Owen: Off the mark against Russia

Michael Owen: Off the mark against Russia / Empics

Owen struck twice in the first half to become only the fourth player, after Jimmy Greaves, Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker to score 40 times for the Three Lions.

A rather less prolific player, Rio Ferdinand, struck his first international goal since the 2002 World Cup six minutes from the end. So, six months after suffering the worst abuse ever directed at an England manager, Steve McClaren now knows that England require just five points from their remaining three games to qualify, providing one of them comes in the return meeting with Russia next month.

It is a quite startling about-turn in fortunes and, while Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey in particular deserve heaps of praise for their superb contributions, Owen is the man who made it possible.

A scorer in his last two games for Newcastle and last two competitive outings for England, Owen's double bore all the hallmarks of a striker nearing his peak again.

And, though Russia did enough to suggest they will not be easily thwarted on a plastic surface in Moscow on October 17, by which time England should have opened up a five-point cushion over Hiddink's men by beating Estonia on home soil, with Owen around, Wayne Rooney back and Frank Lampard, Owen Hargreaves and David Beckham available, McClaren has every reason to be optimistic.

Despite lamely hinting at changes, McClaren surprised no-one by sticking with the side which turned in such a convincing display in the weekend win over Israel.

He sent them out with two challenges; get right into Russia's faces and prove it was possible to reach the highest standards two games in succession. By the time Swedish referee Martin Hansson brought the opening period to an end the response had been delivered in the most positive manner possible.

The more hard-to-please England fans grumbled on Saturday that the opposition was not up to scratch. There could be no such complaint, excuse or `ah but' clause this time around.

Against a side coached by the legendary Hiddink, who had conceded just once in eight qualifying games prior to kick-off, England attacked with verve, vitality and vision.

Had they been four in front at the break, it would not have been an injustice to the hosts, who had heroes all around the pitch.

Barry, once again begging the question why he has been such an infrequent member of England squads down the years, Joe Cole tormenting Russia down the left, Shaun Wright-Phillips doing the same on the right.

And then there was Heskey and Owen. A model partnership in every sense and delivering when it mattered.

As always in these situations, a slice of luck is required and England got it when Hansson ruled Konstantin Zyryanov had handled just before he fired a shot on the turn past Paul Robinson.

Russia thought they had an equaliser and television replays did nothing to undermine their argument. It was definitely a borderline call and thankfully for England, the only man who mattered sided with them.

By that point Owen had scored his first and both Heskey and Wright-Phillips should have followed his lead.

Throughout his lengthy injury problems, McClaren never wavered in his belief that once Owen was restored to full fitness, England would be a different team.

The truth of those words was evident in Estonia last June when Owen made a goalscoring return to competitive combat.

He was on target again on Saturday and the finish from Barry's cross to give England their seventh-minute advantage tonight was pure class.

John Terry attracted two Russian defenders to Barry's cross like moths to a flame, leaving Owen completely on his own.

The Newcastle striker controlled with one touch, then rifled home with a precise second.

Russia's third-choice goalkeeper Viacheslav Malafeev pulled off an excellent save to turn away Cole's deflected effort immediately after Zyryanov's `goal' had been ruled out but within minutes he was picking the ball out of his net again.

There seemed no danger when Ferdinand punted upfield from inside his own half. But Heskey squeezed between two unsuspecting defenders and got his head to the ball with firm enough contact to send it bouncing into Owen's path.

This time there was no need to control as the Newcastle man sent his volley arrowing into the top corner.

Hiddink's response was a substitution and tactical change which was tantamount to an admission of defeat, an embarrassing situation indeed for a man who was one of the early candidates to replace Sven-Goran Eriksson and whom many would still prefer to McClaren.

Not on this evidence though. For, while Dmitry Sychev twice went close just after the break, Russia had neither the brawn nor the brain to unsettle the hosts and Ferdinand ended their miserable night by drilling home near the end.

European Championship Qualifying: Group E
3 - 0
Michael Owen (7), Michael Owen (31), Rio Ferdinand (84)
England Russia
1 Paul Robinson Viacheslav Malafeev 16
3 Ashley Cole Aleksandr Aniukov 22
5 Rio Ferdinand Alexei Berezutsky 27
2 Micah Richards Vasili Berezutsky 2
6 John Terry Sergei Ignashevich 5
7 Gareth Barry Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 15
11 Joe Cole Igor Semshov 20
4 Steven Gerrard Yuri Zhirkov 18
8 Shaun Wright-Phillips Konstatin Zurianov 17
9 Emile Heskey Andrei Arshavin 10
10 Michael Owen Dmitri Sychev 26
13 David James Anton Shunin 12
12 Wes Brown Denis Kolodin 25
14 Phil Neville Vladimir Bystrov 23
16 Stewart Downing Dmitri Torbinsky 7
18 Peter Crouch Alexander Kerzhakov 11
17 Andrew Johnson Roman Pavluchenko 19
15 Alan Smith Pavel Pogrebniak 13
P Crouch for E Heskey (80) V Bystrov for I Semshov (40)
P Neville for J Cole (88) R Pavluchenko for D Sychev (63)
S Downing for M Owen (90) A Kerzhakov for A Aniukov (80)
Yellow Cards
Joe Cole (78)

ESPNsoccernet, Sep. 12, 2007

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