Football

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson hailed substitute Joe Cole for what he called a David Beckham-style matchwinner in Tuesday’s 2-1 friendly win over Serbia and Montenegro.

Cole fired home a late free kick to snatch victory as England limbered up for next Wednesday’s Euro 2004 qualifier in Group Seven against Slovakia.

“I was very happy to see him today, because he played well and the goal he scored was ‘a la Beckham'”, Eriksson said of the 21-year-old West Ham Unit midfielder’s first strike for England.

The Swede was also impressed by Cole’s determination, having been called up for last month’s South Africa friendly while holidaying in Dubai and being warned he could be returned to the Under-21s.

“His answer was very good — he said ‘I will practice very well, I will play very well and you will keep me in the senior team’.

“I like that very much and he will stay with us. He deserves that,” said Eriksson, who had not included Beckham – injured anyway – because he is suspended for the Slovakia game.

Another youngster to catch the manager’s eye was 17-year-old sub Wayne Rooney, marking his fourth England appearance with two impressive shots on the run in another lively display.

“Rooney once again, you can see that he’s a very good player,” said the Swede. “And I think he will be a great player.”

As for his decision to field Gareth Southgate, Ashley Cole, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen for only the first half, Eriksson said: “We want them very fit next week.

“At this moment they are extremely important for us and we didn’t want them injured at all.”

Serbia and Montenegro coach Dejan Savicevic, the former AC Milan midfielder, brushed off the defeat before Saturday’s Group Nine game in Finland and next week’s in Azerbaijan as they too bid to reach next year’s tournament in Portugal.

“I don’t think this result will affect the players at all and I’m convinced that against Finland we will play much better and get a positive result,” he said.

Savicevic, whose team currently have to overtake Italy even to reach the play-offs behind surprise group leaders Wales, added: “I hope the next time we meet it will be in Portugal.”