Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Gerrard goals spare England blushes

LACKLUSTER David Nugent also scored, on his England debut, as Steve McClaren's side eventually overcame soccer minnows Andorra after an unimpressive first half

AFP , PARIS

England captain John Terry, right, fights for the ball with Andorra's Antoni Lima during their European Championship qualifying match in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Steven Gerrard spared England's blushes with a brilliant double to see off plucky Andorra 3-0 in Barcelona.

And in Bari world champions Italy moved themselves back into contention in Group B with a 2-0 victory over Scotland while Northern Ireland are the new shock leaders in Group F after David Healy's double sunk Sweden in Belfast.

England coach Steve McClaren must have been fearing the worst as his lackluster side turned around at the break at 0-0, just four days after their dismal Group E stalemate in Israel.

But Gerrard took the bull by the horns in the second period, volleying home from Wayne Rooney's deft flick after 54 minutes before finishing off his own move following a pair of one-twos with Stewart Downing and Jermain Defoe.

The Liverpool captain also played the crucial through ball that set up the third goal, poked over the line by debutant Preston forward David Nugent after Defoe's initial shot squirmed under goalkeeper Koldo Alvarez's body.

Gerrard was the only bright spark for England but after the game he stuck up for his under-fire teammates.

"The fans were expecting us to win 4/5/6-0 but it's not as easy as that -- they got a lot of men behind the ball," he said.

"We had to show a lot of character when it was 0-0 at half time but in the second half we showed character and moved the ball quicker," he said. "They weren't as fit as us and eventually we wore them down."

But despite his assertions, the fans in Espanyol's stadium, where Andorra chose to stage this match as their own grounds are not up to UEFA standards, were not convinced and jeered the team at half-time and at the final whistle.

England are fourth in their group, two points off leaders Croatia but behind Israel, who thrashed Estonia 4-0 in Tel Aviv, and Russia on goal difference. Croatia and Russia also have a game in hand.

Fiorentina striker Luca Toni scored both goals as Italy moved to within two points of the Scots and France, who had the day off from qualification duty.

It means the Italians have successfully bounced back from their difficult start to their qualification quest when they picked up just one point from their first two games.

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said: "These great players gave the reply that was required. All the rest is just useless chit-chat. I'm thinking now of the next game against Lithuania, a game we have to win."

Italy are now just two points behind Scotland, France and Ukraine, who beat Lithuania 1-0 in Odessa.

In Belfast Johan Elmander gave Sweden the lead but Lawrie Sanchez's rapidly improving side hit back just four minutes after the opener.

And Healy scored the winner in the second half as the Irish moved a point above their visitors at the top of the group.

It has been a remarkable turnaround for Sanchez who was under pressure to resign or be sacked during his side's dreadful World Cup qualification campaign. A shock win over England saved him then and he is reaping the benefits now having also guided his outfit to victory over Spain in this campaign.

Andres Iniesta struck nine minutes from time as Spain pulled themselves to within four points of top spot in the group with a 1-0 win at home to Iceland.

Spain dominated from start to finish but Luis Aragones's men were relieved to finally break the deadlock with time running out.

The Netherlands maintained their grip on Group G with a 1-0 win in Slovenia courtesy of Giovanni van Bronckhurst's strike four minutes from time.

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