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BBC football correspondent Mike Ingham
"A spirited Albanian challenge"
 real 14k

England coach Sven Goran Eriksson
"We tired in the second half"
 real 56k

England captain David Beckham
"It was up to us to combat them"
 real 56k

England scorer Michael Owen
"We knew they would defend in numbers"
 real 56k

England scorer Robbie Fowler
"We needed another goal"
 real 14k

Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK
England edge out Albania
Owen scores England's opener at St James' Park
Owen scores England's opener at St James' Park
England 2-0 Albania

England took a vital stride towards next summer's World Cup as they finally saw off Albania's stubborn challenge at St James' Park.

Michael Owen - the hat-trick hero of the 5-1 win against Germany in Munich - was the talisman again as England moved to the top of Group Nine.

  Key moments
4 mins: Owen is sent crashing in the box but no penalty is given
44 mins: After long periods of frustration, Owen's volley finally puts England ahead
60 mins: Substitute Fowler wastes a glorious chance as his shot on the turn is blocked
86 mins: Beckham's long range effort is pushed over
88 mins: Fowler finally makes the game safe with a brilliantly-taken second
Owen broke the deadlock at the end of a frustrating first half, but it took a brilliant solo goal from substitute Robbie Fowler to ease England's fears that the victory would slip through their grasp.

Sven Goran Eriksson's side suffered a predictable hangover from the euphoria of Munich, producing a victory that was based more on perspiration than inspiration.

But it was the victory that mattered to leave England on the brink of automatic qualification for the showpiece in Korea and Japan.

Now a win in their final game at home to Greece is almost certain to stamp their passport into the finals.

And credit for a night of frustration must also go to battling Albania, who assembled a red wall of defensive resistance to keep England at arm's length for much of the game.

Owen is fouled
Owen tangles with Xhumba
England were again thankful to the Anfield connection, with Owen and Fowler ensuring the last seven goals for Eriksson's side have all been scored by Liverpool players.

Eriksson predictably kept faith with the team that fashioned the stunning triumph in Munich.

But the mood of celebration and anticipation inside St James' Park was punctured by Albania's dogged first half resistance.

England looked set for an early breakthough as they piled on the pressure as Albania retreated into defence.

Nick Barmby wasted an easy chance by heading wide from eight yards as he stole in unmarked on to David Beckham's cross.

Barmby turned creator two minutes later as he carved open the Albanian defence on the left, but just failed to find the incoming Emile Heskey.

England enjoyed massive domination of territory and possession - although the defensive partnership of Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand occasionally looked ill at ease.

And it took another moment of Owen inspiration - as well as a slice of brilliance from Paul Scholes - to end England's frustration on the stroke of half time.

Scholes delivered a glorious pass to find Owen, who provided an instinctive finish with the outside of his right foot past Foto Strakosha.

England suffered a setback after 54 minutes when Heskey, who had been ineffective, limped off with an ankle injury to be replaced by Liverpool team-mate Fowler.

Owen's aerial battle
Owen's aerial battle
And Fowler should have marked his entrance with a goal when he found himself alone in front of goal from Owen's miscued shot, but his weak finish was saved by Strakosha.

Eriksson moved to inject fresh life into England by replacing Barmby with Steve McManaman - but Albania were still not out of contention.

McManaman's casual approach cost England a second goal when he lobbed tamely over the bar with Albania goalkeeper Strakosha stranded out of position.

England suffered their first serious scare - and goalkeeper David Seaman made his first save - after 78 minutes when the robust Edvin Murati forced him to turn a long range drive over the bar.

But Fowler eased England's worries with a brilliant second with three minutes left, escaping the Albania rearguard before delivering a delicate chip over Strakosha.

England: Seaman, G Neville, Campbell, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, Barmby, Owen, Heskey. Substitutes: Wright, Carragher, Southgate, Hargreaves, McManaman, Andy Cole, Fowler.

Albania: Strakosha, Dede, Cipi, Xhumba, Fakaj, Hasi, Murati, Bellai, Bata, Rraklli, Bogdani. Subs: Beqaj, Fortuzi, Mukaj, Rudi Vata, Skela, Tare, Alban Bushi.

Referee: Juan Antonio Fernandez Marin (Madrid)

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