Reuters Soccer Blog
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Imagine the scenario … there are 10 minutes to go in the World Cup final and England are 1-0 down.
Fabio Capello can choose between Michael Owen and Darren Bent to come off the bench and rescue England’s World Cup dream. Who will he turn to?
A man with 40 England goals to his name and bags of international experience who has played for three of Europe’s biggest clubs? Or a striker with four caps, no international goals and a reputation for blowing hot and cold?
It seems Capello, the man credited with dragging England out of the doldrums and restoring their battered reputation, favours the latter.
So, once again, England qualify in style. The garages can start stocking up on plastic flags of St George, the breweries can breathe a sigh of relief and the tabloids can start their gradual shift from cautious support to the crescendo of expectation that will accompany Fabio Capello and his squad to South Africa next year.
But is there any evidence that “this time, more than any other time, they’ll do it right“?
Michael Owen missed four glorious chances in Manchester United’s 2-0 friendly win over Valencia but the very fact that he was there to miss them signals a real chance of the former Liverpool reviving his career for club and country.
Owen’s failure to find the net was described as a wasted opportunity by some, given that England coach Fabio Capello was there watching him, but consider … playing for Newcastle at the end of last season, when did he look in with a chance of scoring even one?
Marco Tardelli is famous for that crazy goal celebration as Italy won the 1982 World Cup.
He loves his country so much that he is ready to whisper the Italian national anthem at Bari on Wednesday despite the fact he is now assistant coach to Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
Quite how far Michael Owen’s career has nosedived was underlined at the weekend when the Newcastle United striker was again overlooked for his country despite the lack of attacking options for coach Fabio Capello.
Capello watched three of his squad strikers hobble off at Wembley on Saturday during the 4-0 friendly victory over Slovakia with Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole both ruled out of Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi probably expected to be grilled for again overlooking Antonio Cassano, but England counterpart Fabio Capello may not have foreseen the furore surrounding him actually picking a player.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Ledley King has a chronic knee problem which prevents him training yet Capello still deemed the centre back good enough for an England squad recall for the friendly with Slovakia and World Cup qualifier with Ukraine.
Like political pundits on local election night, football reporters can’t help reading too much into the results of international friendlies.
Pretty much the least interesting thing about England’s error-strewn 2-1 win over Germany in Berlin on Wednesday was the result, but there was food for thought in the performances of two under-strength teams.
England are without Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney, Ferdinand, Heskey, Owen and a couple of Coles, and Theo Walcott has now joined the injured list.
If David Beckham’s loan move to AC Milan goes through, one of the options coach Carlo Ancelotti has in mind is to use him as an alternative to Andrea Pirlo as a deep midfield playmaker.
It’s an interesting possibility which could help Beckham edge towards Peter Shilton’s record of 125 England caps as a protagonist rather than the bit player he is at the moment.
Fabio Capello said Michael Owen’s England career is not necessarily over after omitting the Newcastle man from his squad again for the Kazakhstan and Belarus World Cup qualifiers.
But the manager’s history in Serie A suggests it’s going to be mighty tough for Owen to get back.