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Owen in line for England recall

August 27, 2008

It is very rare that an England hopeful furthers his case for inclusion in the national team during the early rounds of the Carling Cup, but that is exactly what Newcastle United striker Michael Owen set about doing this week at Championship side Coventry City.

GettyImages / RossKinnairdMichael Owen left Newcastle after four years
Having missed the majority of pre-season with the Magpies and the opening day 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, due to a calf injury and a bout of mumps, the 28-year-old striker came off the bench to save Newcastle's blushes with an extra-time winner at the Ricoh Arena.

With only one club game left before England manager Fabio Capello announces his squad for the World Cup qualifying double header against Andorra and Croatia, the injury-plagued striker needs to maximise every opportunity to impress the Italian coach. Thus, there may have been a slight degree of delight from Owen that Scott Dann's 93rd minute equalizer forced extra-time and a further 30 minutes of competitive football.

The England international made his return to action the previous weekend against Bolton Wanderers and scored a late winner for Kevin Keegan's team. A 53rd minute substitute for the injured Obafemi Martins, he glanced a deft header past Jussi Jaaskelainen from Geremi's cross to snatch victory.

Owen's goalscoring return to the Premier League was followed by his rescue act in the Carling Cup, where he scored the type of goal that may have Capello heading to Arsenal's Emirates stadium at the weekend to see if he can repeat the success against more illustrious opposition.

A 75th minute substitute for Geremi, Owen calmly slotted home an extra-time winner after racing clear of the Sky Blues' defence to latch onto a measured pass from Jose Enrique. It was the type of defence-busting run that has been conspicuously absent from England's attack of late and may offer a ray of light for Capello.

The England coach has thus far struggled to find a decent strike combination, so much so that he has twice opted to play Wayne Rooney as a lone striker despite the player preferring to operate in 'the hole' behind a main striker. Capello has most recently started with Jermain Defoe alongside the Manchester United striker but the results have been somewhat disappointing.

Maybe the fact that Defoe is the only striker to have scored a goal during Capello's tenure, netting twice in the 3-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago when played alongside Dean Ashton, is the reason the Italian stuck with the diminutive striker for three friendlies; but as last week's lacklustre 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic proved he is not yet the answer to England's troubles.

And there in lies the problem for Capello, and the opportunity for Owen.

Empics / NealSimpsonMichael Owen: 89 England caps
England lack a striker who will plays on the shoulder of the last defender, to put the opposition's rear-guard on the back foot and allow Rooney the space to flourish and get back to his best with the national team. Owen may have lost some of his pace but he still has enough speed to make centre-backs worry about racing onto the ball over the top, thus forcing them to abandon holding a highline and allowing more space for an often congested midfield to operate.

Owen's goal against Coventry, although against limited opposition, exemplified those very qualities and gave a hint at what a renewed partnership with Rooney could offer.

The last time the duo were paired together in competitive games for England, during qualifying for Euro 2008, they scored six goals in five games - two for Rooney and four for Owen - and provided Rooney with his last goal for England, in the 2-1 defeat to Russia in the Luzhniki Stadium in October 2008.

The United forward, who clearly does not relish being employed as a lone striker, has struggled to form an understanding with other strike partners at international level and England veteran Owen still looks like the best option in a two pronged attack.

Such is the paucity of alternatives that only 30-year-old Wigan Athletic striker Emile Heskey and Arsenal's part-time forward Theo Walcott were called up alongside Defoe and Rooney for the clash with the Czechs at Wembley. With the pacy and prolific Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor bizarrely overlooked by Capello the lack of top-class talent available gives Owen a real chance of breaking back into the England squad, despite playing only 76 minutes of football so far this season. In fact, having scored two match-winning goals in such a limited time on the pitch a half-decent game against Arsenal should virtually guarantee Owen a place in the England squad. And with the relatively easy qualifier with Andorra up first Capello could ease the Toon striker back into the team before the crunch clash with Croatia - England's conquerors during qualifying for Euro 2008.

So far injury-hampered Owen has only played 45 minutes of football under the new England manager, leading many to speculate that Capello is not a fan of the striker, but with 40 goals in 89 caps his record at international level cannot be ignored. With no better option available it may be time for Owen to step up and prove himself once again.

Capello's England seem to have the same old problems as his predecessors' and the Italian has reverted to the same old players. Owen could well be the next familiar name on the England team sheet.