Vol. 5 Num 143 Fri. October 15, 2004  

FIFA Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft Deutschland 2006
Starring strikers

Deadly hitmen Michael Owen and Thierry Henry stunningly shot down rumours of their international demise on Wednesday as both men found the target to keep their countries on the road to the 2006 World Cup finals.

Owen, skipper for the day in the absence of the suspended David Beckham, scored the only goal of the game as England beat Azerbaijan 1-0 in windswept Baku while Henry added France's second goal in a 2-0 win against Cyprus.

It was a golden night for World Cup strikers throughout Europe as Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy returned to the Dutch side and scored twice in a 3-1 win over Finland while Robbie Keane set a new Irish scoring record with a brace in the 2-0 win over the Faroes in Dublin.

In Parma, Francesco Totti put his critics in their place as he also grabbed two as Italy squeezed past Belarus 4-3.

Stand-in skipper Owen's 28th goal for England was enough to secure a 1-0 win over Azerbaijan and keep England on top of Group Six with 10 points from four matches.

The Real Madrid striker rose to joint eighth in his country's all-time scoring charts by heading home Ashley Cole's cross midway through the first half.

"It was a great ball from Ashley but it was difficult because the ball was swirling about all over the place," said Owen.

"It was important for us to win the game, that's the main thing. The fact I scored was secondary. A game is not just about scoring. I can play well and not score."

Henry also made it 28 international goals as he and Sylvain Wiltord found the net to see off an awkward Cyprus in Nicosia.

It was only Henry's third international goal in his last 11 matches compared to seven goals in eight matches for club side Arsenal this season.

France are now in second spot in Group 4 behind Republic of Ireland, who beat Faroe Islands 2-0 in Dublin, on goal difference.

When asked about his lack of goals, Henry said: "My lack of goals has worried you more than me. It hasn't prevented me from sleeping. This team is in the process of creating something and we will continue to work towards that end."

Robbie Keane set a new international goal-scoring record for Ireland, hitting his 22nd and 23rd goals for his country.

The 24-year-old Tottenham striker had been level in the all-time scoring charts with Niall Quinn going into the game but claimed the record all for himself on his 56th appearance when he slotted home a 14th minute penalty after Jon Roi Jacobsen had fouled Damien Duff in the box.

"It's brilliant, a great feeling," said Keane.

"When I was a kid, I used to dream of playing and scoring for my country but to get the record is unbelievably special."

Goals in either half from Van Nistelrooy lifted the Netherlands to a 3-1 win over Finland in Group One in Amsterdam.

Finland had opened the scoring after 14 minutes through Teemu Tainio.

Van Nistelrooy's early-season hernia operation meant he missed Holland's first two World Cup qualifiers against Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic, and he was returning Wednesday after sitting out a two-match suspension.

But the 28-year-old showed he was back in form helping set up the equaliser which midfielder Wesley Sneijder netted five minutes from half-time.

A minute later, van Nistelrooy gave the hosts the lead and then claimed his second after 63 minutes.

Francesco Totti silenced his critics by scoring twice as Italy reclaimed top spot in Group Five with a 4-3 win over Belarus in Parma.

Totti, much maligned after his poor performance in last Saturday's defeat at Slovenia, opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Roma team-mate Daniele de Rossi doubled the home side's advantage.

The visitors hit back through Maxim Romashchenko's stunning 40-yard shot only for Totti to restore Italy's two-goal cushion with a venomous free-kick.

Belarus refused to lie down and Vitaly Bulyga kept them in the hunt before Alberto Gilardino struck with a close range header four minutes from time for his first senior international goal.

Romashchenko ensured a nail-biting finale by curling a free-kick in off the bar with a minute to go.

"Totti is a crucial player for Italy and has to a lot of pressure on his shoulders," said Italy defender Gianluca Zambrotta.

"But he can cope with the responsibility and he has proved what he can do."

Elsewhere, Berti Vogts future as Scotland manager looked even more bleak after a 1-1 draw in Chisnau against Moldova.

The night's biggest scorers were Portugal who crushed Russia 7-1 in Lisbon with Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice while there were also plenty of smiles in the tiny principality of Andorra as they beat Macedonia 1-0 to register their first ever official win after 30 successive defeats.

England's Michael Owen celebrates after scoring against Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier in Baku on October 13. PHOTO: AFP