England 2-0 Wales
TEAMS in red normally win at Old Trafford... but unfortunately for Wales it never looked like being the case yesterday.
England reinforced their position as Group Six favourites to reach Germany 2006 leaving Welsh fans feeling a huge sense of anti-climax at events on the pitch.
Wales have waited 20 years to have another crack at the Old Enemy, but when it arrived the players failed to rise to the occasion, leaving a nation of downbeat supporters thinking "What if?"
Poland now await on Wednesday in a game Wales simply must win if they are not to raise the white flag on their World Cup chances.
A lucky deflection and a moment of individual brilliance from David Beckham settled one of the most keenly-anticipated matches in the British Isles for years.
But, in truth, Mark Hughes and his men can have few complaints at the scoreline and have veteran goalkeeper Paul Jones to thank for ensuring that they were not on the end of a real hiding.
The Dragons huffed and puffed but the game had little of the fire and brimstone that most were expecting and the players and manager had promised.
There was only one team in it in the first half. England were comfortable, assured and highly inventive in patches.
Sparky's side were stirred into life after the break and yet still failed to force Paul Robinson into a single save.
Former England No 1 David James must have been secretly cursing England's lacklustre opponents from his spot on the substitutes' bench as his main rival for the jersey was given an easy time.
Simon Davies did have the ball in the net in the second half, courtesy of a blistering finish into the top corner, but the whistle had already gone for John Hartson's raised boot.
Wales needed a healthy dose of luck and the omens did not look good from the moment Andy Melville pulled out of the starting line-up minutes before kick-off.
The West Ham defender has played just 20 minutes so far this season - for Wales against Latvia in August - but injured his troublesome calf muscle in the warm-up.
That forced Hughes to rejig his defence and put Mark Delaney in the centre, with Spurs midfielder Simon Davies being asked to fill in as an emergency full-back.
The last time Davies was assigned defensive duties Wales were walloped 4-0 by Italy, and it looked like a similar story was about to unfold when England took the lead with barely three minutes gone.
Welsh fans were still smarting from the pathetic jeers of England fans during the anthems and the poor response to a minute's silence for executed Iraq hostage Ken Bigley.
And the players were still finding their feet with the new formation when Nicky Butt pinged the ball in to Michael Owen.
The troubled striker's first touch wasn't great but he managed to lay it back to Frank Lampard.
The Chelsea midfielder's low drive caught Owen's heel as it skidded through Delaney's legs and past the wrong-footed Jones into the bottom corner.
The hearts of 6,500 Welsh fans inside Old Trafford sank along with millions at home.
It was to be a long afternoon.
But to their credit Wales kept their heads above water - just - and managed not to drown under a tidal wave of pressure from the home side.
Wales suffered a few scary moments as they searched desperately for some composure to steady their early nerves.
And in Danny Gabbidon they found a player who once again stepped up proudly for the big occasion.
The Cardiff City defender continually found himself in the thick of the action as England, with their new-look three-pronged attack, poured forward almost at will. But he came through with flying colours.
His, though, was one of only a handful of good performances. Ryan Giggs only showed flashes of his talent, John Hartson was nothing more than a toy to Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, and the Welsh midfield were completely outplayed for long periods.
Wayne Rooney was given the freedom of playing in the hole, but not even in his wildest dreams could he have imagined a hole of such gigantic proportions.
Mark Pembridge was given the job of plugging the gap, but it only seemed a matter of how many England might score.
The inadequacy of Wales' defences was shown when Rooney ghosted past Pembridge before shading the post with the help of Jones' hand.
Sparky was a constant presence on the touchline, urging his troops to push up and limit the space available to Rooney and Co.
Jermain Defoe squeezed a shot wide with the goal at his mercy before Jones came to the rescue again with an unconventional stop with his legs to keep Owen at bay.
England were now stroking the ball around with a confidence that at times bordered on the arrogant but Wales did finally create two half-chances.
Giggs, who will probably look back with huge disappointment on his and Wales' display, should probably have left Davies' cross to Gary Speed coming in behind him but instead glanced a header wide.
Wales' limited attacking ambition early on was clear when Giggs took a free kick deep inside England territory only to find four teammates behind him with not a single opponent to mark between them.
Eventually, the Welsh managed to take the sting out of the England tail and maintain a degree of possession themselves.
But it was still the hosts who made the running with Rooney charging at Wales from half-way leaving a trail of defenders floundering in his wake before Defoe's weak effort brought the move to a disappointing end for England.
Sparky's team talk clearly had the desired effect as Wales gritted their teeth in the second half and started to put up more of a fight.
Gabbidon's last-ditch tackle on Owen seemed to spur his teammates on just after the restart.
Wales were just about living with England at this stage despite still conceding the lion's share of possession and chances. But the game slipped from their grasp for good with a moment of Beckham brilliance with 14 minutes to go.
The England captain collected the ball 25 yards out on the left before finding the top corner with a superb looping shot which gave Jones no chance.
But what should have been an afternoon of celebration for the Real Madrid star ended in frustration when he was booked and injured after two acts of petulance on Wales left-back Ben Thatcher. He has a hairline fracture of a rib.
If Thatcher's teammates had followed the hardman defender's uncompromising approach early on maybe things could have been different but it was too late by then.