England counting on Owen's cool finish
LONDON, May 20 (Reuters) - England will head for the World Cup knowing that supporting Michael Owen and striking at opponents from deep will be the key to success without Wayne Rooney.
As coach Sven-Goran Eriksson sweats on next Thursday's scan on Rooney's broken foot, few expect the striker to recover in time for the group stages in Germany - if he makes the finals at all.
The 20-year-old's injury will clearly place an extra weight on Owen's shoulders as England look to come through Group B games against Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Sweden.
Fortunately for Eriksson, Owen's track record shows that pressure does not faze a 26-year-old who is now looking forward to his third World Cup.
'It doesn't really affect the way I play,' Owen told reporters. 'If anyone plays for England on a regular basis and for top Premiership teams like Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal - you've got to be able to handle pressure.
'There are massive games every week let alone a Champions League final like Arsenal were playing in. Pressure comes with life.
'I never get so excited that I can't think and I never get too low. I'm able to keep a middle ground on a lot of things.'
From breaking records as a schoolboy to rattling up 35 goals in 75 England games, the Newcastle United striker has no reason to doubt his ability despite a long-term injury.
'The first time I ever played in the World Cup I scored, the first time I played in a football match I scored, the first time I played for Liverpool I scored,' Owen said.
'If you do it first time, it's not a confidence thing - it's deep within you that you know you can do it.
'I don't go to sleep thinking about the pressure, I think about that little rectangle that I've got to smack the ball into - and that's about it.'
Owen also believes he is only part of a goalscoring equation for England, who have only three other named strikers.
Rooney is joined on the roster by 17-year-old Theo Walcott, who has not played in Arsenal's first team since joining in January, and Peter Crouch.
Asked about England's goal potential, Owen told reporters at a training camp in Portugal: 'That's why I think we've got such a good squad of players.
'You've got to have more than one or two matchwinners and we've got Wayne, Frank Lampard, Stevie Gerrard, David (Beckham), Joe Cole - people who can turn a match with one bit of magic or a great goal.
'Even John Terry scores in double figures for Chelsea every season, so he's always dangerous on set pieces,' he said of the central defender. 'You can see goals coming from plenty of different directions.'
Owen is also looking on the bright side of his injury layoff. He has played only one competitive game for Newcastle since breaking a bone in his foot on December 31.
'I think I've played 20 games this year between club and country. That's probably 20 fewer than being perfect if you're talking about preparing for the World Cup,' he conceded.
'But in saying that I prefer to have played 20 fewer than 20 too many. I'm raring to go, I'm fit, and I feel sharp in training. I'm looking at it now as a positive thing.'