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Football: Euro 2004: Rooney rescues Sven; England 3 Switzerland 0.

Byline: Mark Bradley in Coimbra

Thank heavens for Wayne Rooney. Having played well against France and still lost, England played unconvincingly against Switzerland and yet won, albeit with a late flourish against a side reduced to ten men.

That they prevailed, however, was due not only to the dismissal of Bernt Haas with 31 minutes left, vital as that was in undermining a Swiss side who had earlier troubled them in defence. It was primarily down to Rooney, who became the youngest scorer at a European Championship finals at the age of 18 years and 237 days. In physique, hot-blooded temperament, innate skill and impudent swagger, he is beginning to resemble a certain Paul Gascoigne.

With David Beckham and Michael Owen, the two men upon whom England normally rely so heavily, yet to show their best form, it has been to Rooney, as well as Frank Lampard, that Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England coach, has looked for inspiration.

Against France, both delivered, albeit in defeat, and so too did they here. While Lampard was again at the heart of the midfield, Rooney struck his sixth goal in 15 caps with a 23rd-minute header that eclipsed the previous youngest scorer, Dragan Stojkovic in 1984, by almost eight months.

With 15 minutes left and England still vulnerable to a side reduced to ten men, Rooney's shot hit the post and was deflected back into his net by goalkeeper Jorg Stiel.

It was an own goal but no matter. With Steven Gerrard striking England's third as they punished a tiring side, an air of self-belief had finally returned to Eriksson's squad.

Then again, after that lastgasp defeat by France, the result was all that really counted in helping to reignite England's qualifying hopes.

Eriksson started with a diamond-shaped midfield but an early counter-attack along the vulnerable left flank knocked that idea on the head. The flatpacked midfield therefore returned after five minutes but the pressure from Switzerland duly continued, with Hakan Yakin's set-piece deliveries especially threatening.

Rooney, meanwhile, was cautioned for leaving his foot up as he challenged Stiel in racing on to Lampard's through-ball. Rooney's no-holds approach paid dividends. When referee Valentin Ivanov expertly waved play on after a foul on Gerrard, Owen crossed for Rooney to fling himself at the ball to head home.

His acrobatic somersault was nevertheless followed by him kicking the corner flag and a microphone outpost.

While that was against the run of play, much as England had scored against France, they started to carve out openings, with Paul Scholes shooting wide.

The Swiss were, however, by no means subdued and David James was called upon to dive at the feet of Stephane Chapuisat and deny Alexander Frei's shot, while Yakin's free kick flashed past the post.

Yakin, especially, was being given far too much space and, in truth, England survived with a clean sheet due to Switzerland's lack of a top-class goalscorer.

With the ageing Chapuisat taken off, Daniel Gygax was brought on but Eriksson's cause was helped enormously by Haas's dismissal on 59 minutes. Initially, it looked as though Rooney walked a disciplinary tightrope as hearts leapt into mouths every time he lungedtowards an opponent. However, Haas not only fouled Gerrard but, 11 minutes later, brought down Ashley Cole and, without any semblance of doubt, was duly sent off.

In the final half-hour England failed to impose themselves despite a one-man advantage. Rooney just failed to capitalise on Beckham's long throughball while Owen tamely shot straight at Stiel.

Eriksson needed fresh legs and Scholes, passing a fitness test on Wednesday on an ankle injury, was replaced by Owen Hargreaves on 69 minutes.

While Gerrard switched to the left, with Hargreaves in central midfield, the sight of Owen again being taken off before Rooney was rather more telling.

Darius Vassell, the Aston Villa striker, is nevertheless an excellent international substitute and his control and lay-off almost immediately set up Rooney from 20 yards out.

His powerful shot struck the post but rebounded on to the head of prone keeper Stiel and bounced back into the net. Good luck had returned to England after the bad fortune against France.

When Gerrard drove home their third on 82 minutes from Gary Neville's cross, their recovery was complete.

Scorers: Rooney (23), Stiel (og, 76), Gerrard (82).

ENGLAND: James, G Neville, Campbell, Terry, A Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes (Hargreaves, 70), Owen (Vassell, 72), Rooney (Dyer, 83). Subs: Robinson, Walker, Bridge, P Neville, King, Carragher, Butt, Joe Cole, Heskey.

SWITZERLAND: Stiel, Haas, Murat Yakin, Muller, Spycher, Huggel, Celestini (Cabanas, 53), Wicky, Chapuisat (Gygax, 45), Hakan Yakin (Vonlanthen, 84), Frei. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Roth, Berner, Henchoz, Zwyssig, Magnin, Barnetta, Rama.

Referee: V Ivanov (Russia). Bookings: England --Rooney; Switzerland --Celestini.

Sending-off: Switzerland --Haas (second bookable offence).

Attendance: 30,000.

CAPTION(S):

Wayne Rooney heads England's first goal to become, at 18 years and 237 days, the youngest goalscorer in European Championship finals
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 18, 2004
Words:818
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