England 2-0 Liechtenstein
Wayne Rooney dragged England to the top of Group Seven by inspiring Sven-Goran Eriksson's side to victory over stubborn Liechtenstein at Old Trafford.
The teenage striker scored his second goal in as many games after helping set up Michael Owen for England's opener in the first minute of the second half.
Victory moved Eriksson's side above Turkey and ensures that a draw in Istanbul next month would be enough to send England to next summer's Euro 2004 finals in Portugal.
But the performance was far from convincing as England yet again had to rely on a strong second-half showing - and a remarkable contribution from Rooney - to ensure a victory that had appeared inevitable.
Eriksson resisted the temptation to rest David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, despite yellow cards and the threat of suspension in Turkey hanging over their heads.
But even with their talismanic duo included in midfield, England lacked a spark of invention against the most ordinary of international opponents.
In fact, much of England's pedestrian lethargy may have been precisely because of the pair's fear of making a challenge that could have grounded them for the trip to Istanbul.
Despite the first-half frustrations, England always looked likely to crack open a Liechtenstein defence which proved obdurate but appeared to be playing on borrowed time.
19 mins: Beckham sweeps shot against crossbar
42 mins: Beattie chests down Beckham cross and slams shot against bar
46 mins: Owen heads home Gerrard's cross for England's opener
52 mins: Gerrard tees up Rooney for clinical finish
But for all the experience in England's starting line-up, it was Everton youngster Rooney who gradually and methodically picked Liechtenstein apart.
The 17-year-old forward, playing in a deep-lying role behind Owen and James Beattie, was a constant menace to the visiting defence.
He saw a first-time shot fly over early on then had a clever looping header well tipped over by the alert Liechtenstein keeper Peter Jehle.
Despite England's struggle to break the international minnows down, Jehle remained the busiest Liechtenstein player.
And when England did find a way past him, they were denied by the crossbar.
First, Beckham saw a sweeping far-post effort brush the bar after a fine left-wing run and cross by the effervescent Rooney, then James Beattie slammed an effort against the woodwork after chesting down Beckham's cross.
Rooney sends an overhead kick fizzing over the bar
In between, Rooney fizzed a spectacular overhead kick over the bar and Owen fired wide of an open goal after Jehle had fumbled under a hefty challenge from Beattie.
It appeared only a matter of time before England made the breakthrough.
And the crucial goal arrived in the opening minute of the second half as Rooney teed up Gerrard for a cross which was flicked home by the head of Owen with Jehle stranded.
Owen's goal, his 24th in 53 England internationals, took him level with Sir Geoff Hurst in England's all-time goalscoring top 10.
But still England's current top scorer could not upstage Rooney, who sealed victory with a fine goal six minutes after Owen's breakthrough.
Beckham superbly found Gerrard at the far post and the Liverpool midfielder's lay-back was joyfully swept home by a grateful Rooney.
With victory assured, Eriksson withdrew Beckham and Gerrard from the threat of a yellow peril and England effectively settled for what they had.
The result set an England post-war record of eight successive victories and, remarkably, means Eriksson's side have now scored twice in all 13 major qualifying games the Swede has taken charge of.
Yet the more important statistic remains England's current position in the Group Seven table and the knowledge that Eriksson's men are a single point from Portugal 2004.
England: James, Gary Neville, Bridge, Terry, Upson,
Beckham (Phil Neville 58), Gerrard (Hargreaves 58), Lampard,
Rooney (Joe Cole 70), Owen, Beattie.
Subs Not Used: Robinson, Campbell, Dyer, Heskey.
Liechtenstein: Jehle, Telser, Ritter, Hasler,
Michael Stocklasa (Maierhofer 45), Roger Beck (Thomas Beck 57),
Gerster, Martin Stocklasa, Burgmeier, D'Elia (Buchel 73), Frick.
Subs Not Used: Heeb, Ospelt, Matthias Beck, Vogt.
Booked: Martin Stocklasa, Jehle, Gerster.
Referee: Knud Erik Fisker (Denmark)