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England seek hat-trick of wins

October 13, 2004 10:57 IST

England should complete a hat-trick of victories that will put them firmly on course for the 2006 World Cup in Wednesday's qualifier in Azerbaijan.

England started their Group Six campaign with a disappointing 2-2 draw in Austria, after leading 2-0 in the second half, a result that sparked calls from a hostile media for coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to be sacked.

The critics were silenced, though, by a gritty 2-1 victory in Poland and a comfortable 2-0 win over Wales on Saturday, which left Eriksson's men top of the group with seven points, ahead of Poland (6pts) and Austria (4pts).

Against an Azerbaijan side with only two points on the board England should have little difficulty defending that lead -- and potentially extending it if Poland fail to beat the Welsh in Cardiff -- despite some injury woes.

Eriksson hinted on Tuesday he would stick with the three-man attack he deployed against Wales, when Michael Owen and Jermain Defoe played up front, supported by teenager Wayne Rooney.

"The team we played on Saturday put on a very good performance, very professional," he told a news conference in Baku. "We kept the ball and created a lot of chances, and we kept a clean sheet.

"I was very, very happy with that and maybe I will try to change as little as possible."

Owen Hargreaves would probably replace skipper David Beckham, who is both injured and suspended for Wednesday's game, on the right side of England's midfield.

Nicky Butt will almost certainly continue to stand in for injured Steven Gerrard in Eriksson's re-shuffled midfield after a fine display against Wales, while Frank Lampard, who opened the scoring on Saturday, should start on the left.

ROONEY THREAT

A revelation at Euro 2004, Rooney is one of the hottest properties in international football and the 18-year-old can expect some tight marking in Baku.

Azerbaijan coach Carlos Alberto was quoted as telling British media this week: "Rooney is an excellent player. He will be our big problem and we may need two or three players to look after him."

The Brazilian, who has no major injury or suspension worries following a 0-0 home draw with Northern Ireland on Saturday, is likely to keep the same starting line-up.

It remains to be seen whether the small country on the Caspian Sea can pose trouble for England on the pitch, although they are likely to cause problems for the British media with two players named Guliyev and three Gurbanovs in the squad.

Defenders Kamal Guliyev and Emin Guliyev formed the Azeri backline against the Northern Irish after being recalled following a lengthy absence.

Midfielder Makhmud Gurbanov also started Saturday's game, while strikers Ildar Gurbanov and Gurban Gurbanov came on in the second half. None of the five players are related.

Probable teams:

Azerbaijan: Jahangir Hasanzade; Rafael Amirbekov, Aftandil Hajiyev, Emin Guliyev, Kamal Guliyev; Mahir Shukurov, Makhmud Gurbanov, Ismail Mamedov, Rashad Sadygov; Samir Aliyev, Nadir Nabiyev.

England: Paul Robinson; Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole; Frank Lampard, Nicky Butt, Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves; Jermain Defoe, Michael Owen

Referee: Alain Hamer (Luxembourg)

(Additional reporting by Gennady Fyodorov)
Trevor Huggins
Source:
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