On this day: England beat Albania in World Cup qualifier

On this day in 2001, England edged to a 2-0 victory over Albania in a World Cup qualifier at St James' Park.

In 2001, England went into their World Cup qualifying match with Albania aware that victory would take them to the top of their group with one game remaining in the race to make the finals in Japan and South Korea

The Three Lions headed to St James' Park on the back of a memorable 5-1 triumph over Germany in Munich, mainly thanks to a hat-trick from Michael Owen.

That had seen Sven-Goran Eriksson's side make up for their narrow loss at Wembley at the start of the campaign, and two wins against Albania and Greece would ensure that England would avoid a playoff tie later in the year.

As expected, Eriksson retained the same starting lineup that thrashed their fierce rivals four days earlier, and the Swede would have fully expected his team to record a double over Albania, after a nervy 3-1 win in March.

England began brightly on Tyneside, with Nick Barmby proving an influential figure, ghosting in to head wide from close range before creating an opportunity for Emile Heskey.

England's Michael Owen in action during the World Cup qualifier against Germany on September 1, 2001© Getty Images

The home nation were dominating proceedings but they were struggle to create clear-cut chances, as Albania fought to prevent a heavy defeat.

However, England started to find better openings as the first half wore on, and after Owen had tested the goalkeeper twice in as many minutes, he gave his side the lead just before half time.

Paul Scholes was the instigator, providing a clever chip over the Albanian defence for Owen to chase, before the Liverpool forward volleyed the ball past the goalkeeper from an acute angle.

Eriksson opted to replace Heskey with Robbie Fowler shortly after the break, and the change almost brought an immediate reward, but his close-range effort was clawed away.

With just the solitary goal separating the two teams, Albania began to grow into the game, and Devis Mukaj and Edvin Murati kept David Seaman alert between the England posts.

England's Robbie Fowler in action during the World Cup qualifier against Albania on September 5, 2001© Getty Images

However, with two minutes remaining in Newcastle, England sealed the three points with a finely-taken goal from Fowler, who evaded two Albanian defenders before clipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.

It ensured a positive end to what had been an indecisive performance from England as they struggled to deliver a display that was on par with their heroics in Germany.

But three points ensured that England would go into their final fixture with Greece at Old Trafford knowing that they were one victory away from a trip to Asia in June.

However, the match was far from straightforward, with England twice falling behind to their opponents, but they were being handed a lifeline with Germany being held by Finland.

A late goal would seal England's progress, and with the game deep into injury time, David Beckham stepped up to score a 25-yard free kick to earn his country their World Cup place.

Frank Lampard celebrates scoring for England against Moldova.
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