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Sizzling Szilard's England threat

England manager Sven Goran Eriksson's weekend tour of Premiership football stadia may not have included the Riverside but the Swede could hardly fail to notice the performance of one particular player on Teesside.

Slovakia international Szilard Nemeth inspired Middlesbrough to a 5-1 annihilation of ten-man Tottenham Hotspur on a rare start for the north east club. His determination to prove a point to his manager could have repercussions for England, who face the frustrated striker and his countrymen in a Euro 2004 qualifier next month.

The 25-year-old forward had publicly urged Boro boss Steve McClaren to play him more often, after finding himself on the substitutes' bench since February, and Saturday's show of form has boosted his chances of grabbing a starting place for the final game of the season against relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers.

'Nemeth gave a tremendous performance,' McClaren said after the match. 'He had a fantastic 10 minutes in which he made one, got the penalty and scored one.'

'He looked focused, determined and as if he had a point to prove.'

The former Inter Bratislava striker, who has started more games for his country than his club over the past three months, will be looking to further prove his point when England host Slovakia at the very same Riverside Stadium on June 11.

And while McClaren, Eriksson's former assistant with the national team, may have been looking to do England a favour by keeping the striker on the bench all he has served to do is fuel Szilard's desire to score goals.

On Saturday, a sorry Spurs side felt the full force of his frustration.

Nemeth, who has scored seven goals in 15 Premiership starts, helped his club end a four-game goal drought, sparked Boro's biggest win of the season and vowed to take his form onto the international stage.

'Many times I don't understand why I don't start matches. It's been very difficult for me because I've been in good form all season,' Nemeth said. 'If I had played more games I'd have scored more goals.'

'In the last month I have scored six goals and I'd love to take that form into the England game,' Nemeth threatened.

Since graduating from the Under-21 team, Nemeth's form for the national team has been impressive, netting 12 times in 33 games, and the former Slovakia Player of the Year is now the first choice striker for his country.

He scored both goals in last week's 2-2 friendly draw with Greece and has netted three of his country's seven goals during Euro 2004 qualifying.

In England's opening game of their qualifying campaign, Nemeth gave Slovakia a 24th minute lead before Eriksson's men fought back for a narrow 2-1 victory in Bratislava, with goals from Michael Owen and David Beckham.

On that day Nemeth, who joined Boro in 2001 after his 24 goals in 32 games helped Inter Bratislavia to a league and cup double, faced his club teammate Gareth Southgate and the England centre-back could be inline to face the striker, who he describes as an 'excellent player', again.

England's first choice centre-back Sol Campbell has been sidelined for six weeks with an achilles injury and that could prompt a rare start for Southgate, who partnered Jonathan Woodgate against Slovakia last year, at his home ground.

Boro's Szilard Nemeth celebrates his goal against Tottenham.
Boro's Szilard Nemeth celebrates his goal against Tottenham.

Nemeth and Co will warm-up for the match with a qualifying clash against Group Seven's second placed side Turkey - only three points ahead of Slovakia on nine points - before taking on group leaders England.

The game could, and maybe should, have been played behind closed doors following racist taunts from some England 'fans' after April's clash with Turkey at Sunderland's Stadium of Light, but UEFA imposed a record £70,000 fine instead.

Ironically, when Slovakia played England in Bratislava the English FA complained that the team had suffered racist abuse from the home fans and Slovakia subsequently had to play their qualifier against Liechtenstein behind closed doors.

However, despite UEFA's apparent double standards, Nemeth is happy that June's international will be played out in front of a packed Riverside Stadium.

'England should have been handed a stiffer penalty than a fine for the behaviour of fans against Turkey,' Nemeth told The Guardian.

'However, I'm pleased the fans are allowed in. This is my home stadium and it will be good to come here and play in front of a 37,000 crowd.'

Fans' favourite Nemeth can expected a much frostier reception when he takes to the Middlesbrough pitch in Slovakia colours as Boro and England fans alike hope he has an off day.


  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.