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Owen expecting brighter days

sports Updated: Sep 10, 2007 12:01 IST
AFP
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Michael Owen is convinced England coach Steve McClaren has given him the perfect conditions to help his country win their Euro 2008 shoot-out with Russia.

Owen relished the opportunity to renew his strike partnership with Emile Heskey in Saturday's win over Israel and the impressive wing play of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole was an added bonus for the England forward.

With Heskey's physical approach keeping the Israeli defenders occupied and Wright-Phillips and Cole whipping in plenty of testing crosses, Owen enjoyed his most productive game for England for several years.

The Newcastle star scored a brilliant goal from outside the penalty area that he rated as the third best of his 38 strikes for England, behind his effort against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup and a long-range finish against Luxembourg a year later.

Owen believes McClaren's team are finally on the right track after a previously lethargic qualifying campaign and he can't wait to take on Russia.

"We've been looking to play well full stop," he said. "We haven't played well over the years. That was one game where you come off and can look everyone in the eye and say I'm proud to be part of that performance.

"I thought we had a good balance. Joe tucked in sometimes off the wing because he's naturally right-footed and Shaun is a real winger.

"Joe played well and Shaun Wright-Phillips played really well.

"I feel fine. I've played plenty of games already this season. I'll play better and I'll play worse but I'm in a position now where I'll take responsibility."

Owen had asked McClaren to pair him with Heskey because he believes the muscular Wigan forward offers the perfect counterpoint to his predatory instincts.

But with Peter Crouch back from suspension for Russia's visit, McClaren must decide whether to keep faith with Heskey, who has helped Owen scored 12 times in the last 13 matches the pair have played together.

There is no doubt for Owen who vote for if the decision was down to him.

He said: "We weren't worried about whether we would click before the game. You know what you are going to get from Emile, he can be a real weapon in certain games.

"Obviously there is competition for places, but I've played with him for many a year and some of those games he was unplayable when he was playing well."

While Owen thrived on Heskey's presence, it was Gareth Barry who set up two of England's goals.

Barry's astute pass teed up Owen's strike and the Aston Villa midfielder also whipped in the corner that Micah Richards headed home for the third goal.

Seven years had passed since Barry last started a match for England but he produced the kind of influential performance that often seems beyond some of his more illustrious peers in McClaren's squad.

Barry admitted he thought his international career was over, but now he has given McClaren a selection headache if Owen Hargreaves recovers from injury in time for Wednesday's match.

He said: "It does enter your head that your international career is probably over.

"There were a few injuries and I did not know I was playing until the last minute, but I got my head right to start the game.

"It just goes to show that you can never give up. I knew I was still young enough and playing well enough.

"That is all you can do, put your name in the frame and play as well as you can. So especially with the injuries at the moment, it does give the manager another option."

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