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By ESPN Staff
May 23, 2006

Eriksson: 'Super-fit' Owen is hungry for goals

Sven-Goran Eriksson has warned rival defences England striker Michael Owen will be at the peak of his powers during this summer's World Cup.

Eriksson believes Owen is an even better player than in the 1998 and 2002 finals, when he scored a total of four goals in nine games.

England's head coach has taken great heart from the way Owen has bounced back from his broken metatarsal via his sharpness and fitness at the week-long training camp in Portugal.

Eriksson, who will pair Owen with Peter Crouch in Thursday's 'B' international with Belarus, said: 'Physically Michael is in fantastic condition and you can see how hungry he is to play football.

'He trained fantastically in Portugal. He has been working very hard and his fitness levels are very good. He is fit. I would say he is is super-fit.

'Of course, when he got the injury, in his mind was always the World Cup and he was afraid of not playing in the World Cup because he is desperate to be there.

'But I saw a happy face last week in Portugal

'Michael Owen is still a young man and it will be his third World Cup. That's incredible and he is better today than he was in his first and second World Cups.'

Owen is England's main source of goals, with 35 for his country, but Eriksson believes England have the potential to deliver goals from all departments of the team.

He said: 'You've got to have more than one or two match-winners and we've got Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Joe Cole - people who can turn a match with one bit of magic or a great goal.

'When you look around the squad you see plenty of different ways that goals can come. Even John Terry gets into double figures for Chelsea every season and he's always dangerous on set pieces.

'You can see goals coming from plenty of different directions this summer which gives opponents plenty to concern themselves about.'

Steven Gerrard has joined up with England at their base in Hertfordshire after being given a week's rest by Eriksson amid continuing debate as to whether he will operate as a second striker behind Owen if Wayne Rooney is unfit for the initial matches.

Eriksson said: 'When I saw Steven I said congratulations about winning (the FA Cup) and then I joked 'are you a midfielder or a centre-forward!' He said 'who knows'.

'Steven Gerrard is a fantastic footballer and he will be very important for us during the World Cup. I have in my mind what team I want to see out there against Paraguay.

'He has played many different positions for Liverpool this season - outside left, outside right, centre-midfield, the sitting role, second striker, he has done everything.

'Wherever you put him, he will play very well for you. He will be extremely useful for us in the World Cup.'

Eriksson confirmed Aaron Lennon and Stewart Downing are likely to start the 'B' international on the right and left flank respectively.

• Nigel Reo-Coker has withdrawn from England's World Cup standby squad and will be replaced by Phil Neville.

Uncapped West Ham skipper Reo-Coker has been troubled by a persistent back problem.

Everton utility man Neville will join Scott Carson, Michael Dawson, Jermain Defoe and Andrew Johnson on the standby list in case any of the main squad are injured before England's first game against Paraguay on June 10.