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Rooney's brace keeps England in the hunt

COIMBRA, JUNE 18. Wayne Rooney became the youngest goal scorer in the history of the European Championship with two goals in a 3-0 victory over Switzerland on Thursday to haul England back into contention for Euro 2004.

The 18-year-old Everton striker headed in a cross from fellow striker Michael Owen in the 23rd minute after Sven-Goran Eriksson's team had been outplayed by the Swiss in the early stages.

He added a second 15 minutes from the end after great approach play by Darius Vassell as England followed up its dramatic 2-1 loss to France with three points against the Swiss.

Steven Gerrard scored the best goal of the match, finishing off a long spell of quality England passing for the third in the 82nd minute.

Sven-Goran Eriksson called Rooney's two goals ``fantastic. ``He worked very hard as well and congratulations. For an 18-year-old and with that performance at this level. It is incredible.''

At 18 years 237 days, Rooney is the youngest to ever score in the championship. He's almost a year younger than the previous record-holder Dragan Stojkovic of Yugoslavia in the '84 tournament.

The game kicked off in 30C heat at Coimbra's Municipal stadium, which had so many England fans in the 30,000-seater ground it looked like an England home match.

After its loss to France on Sunday, England needed to win the game to get back in contention for a place in the last eight. But it was the Swiss who looked better in the early stages.

They forced two corners and a free kick in a 60-second spell, Hakan Yakin's free kick flicking off the head of England defender Sol Campbell for a corner.

Another Yakin free kick was almost turned into his own net by Steven Gerrard in the 16th minute, and a minute later a goalbound 25-metre shot by Alex Frei struck John Terry.

Rooney was shown the yellow card by Russian referee Valentin Ivanov for sliding through with his studs up when Swiss goalkeeper Joerg Stiel raced out of goal to grab the a through ball from Gerrard.

England had not mustered a single shot on goal by that stage but took the lead in the 23rd minute. Gerrard was fouled after winning the ball just outside the Swiss area but play continued. David Beckham crossed from the right, Owen lobbed the ball in from the left and Rooney was ideally placed to plant a firm header past Stiel from six metres. The goal stood even though TV showed Paul Scholes was offside.

England came close to scoring a second in the 35th minute when Ashley Cole crossed from the left but Rooney was unable to get a touch and the ball flew across the goalmouth.

Switzerland almost levelled in the final minute of the first half when Hakan Yakin curled a 19-metre free kick just wide of the far post.

The Swiss replaced veteran striker Stephane Chapuisat with Daniel Gygax to try and unlock a well organised England central defence, which had John Terry back after his hamstring injury alongside Sol Campbell. Raphael Wicky came close with a 25-metre shot that flew past the target early in the second half. But the Swiss were reduced to 10 men when Bernd Haas, who plays in England for promoted West Bromwich Albion, was sent off for his second yellow card in the 60th minute.

England sent Darius Vassell on for Owen and the Aston Villa striker had an immediate impact, setting up Rooney's second in the 75th minute.

He chased a long clearance and shrugged off a defender before playing the ball out to Rooney on the left. The teenager could have returned the pass but opted to shoot from a difficult angle and drove the ball to the near post. The shot hit the upright and hit goalkeeper Stiel in the back before rebounding in.

On the final goal, substitute Owen Hargreaves fed Gerrard on the left and the Liverpool midfield launched a crossfield ball to Beckham. The Real Madrid star sent his former Manchester United teammate Gary Neville racing into the area with a slick forward pass and the fullback's cross found the unmarked Gerrard who swept the ball home.

Line-ups:

England: David James, Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, John Terry, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes (Owen Hargreaves, 70th), Michael Owen (Darius Vassell, 72), Wayne Rooney (Kieron Dyer, 83).

Switzerland: Joerg Stiel, Bernt Haas, Christoph Spycher, Patrick Mueller, Murat Yakin, Raphael Wicky, Hakan Yakin, Fabio Celestini (Ricardo Cabanas, 53), Benjamin Huggel; Stephane Chapuisat (Daniel Gygax, 46), Alexander Frei. — AP

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