Hargreaves ready to play both qualifiers
Midfield dynamo Owen Hargreaves is confident his body can take the strain of back-to-back must-win Euro 2008 qualifiers for England. The Manchester United star has been plagued by a tendinitis problem in his knee since completing his £18million summer switch from Bayern Munich. Hargreaves was restricted to running only during United's Far East tour and also missed the first two games of his new club's Premier League title defence. Even when he did make his debut - in the defeat at Manchester City - Sir Alex Ferguson reported Hargreaves' knee had swollen quite badly and instantly ruled him out of England's friendly with Germany. The Calgary-born player has still not completed two games in a week and sat out training yesterday to concentrate on gym work. Yet, with major fitness issues surrounding Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, Hargreaves is a major component of Steve McClaren's likely starting line-up. 'I hope I can play two games in a week,' said Hargreaves. 'I have not done it yet this season but it has never been a problem before, so hopefully it won't be a problem now.' Ironically, at a time when the likelihood of Gerrard having a pain-killing jab to get him through Saturday's encounter with Israel is dominating the headlines, Ferguson at one stage revealed Hargreaves might require an injection as well to help him get over the problem. Thanks to the perseverance of United's medical team - and the 26-year-old's patience - such a move was not required. 'Sometimes you do need an injection but any time you can try and avoid it, you should,' he said. 'The medical staff have worked very hard and I have invested a lot of time to trying to get fit as well, so, so far, I have not needed it. 'At one stage I did feel as though I wouldn't be ready for the start of the season but I have completed three games now and feel good. 'I know I missed training yesterday but sometimes you can do too much.' Although Hargreaves is now based in England, his travelling time on the train from Manchester was not much different to a flight from Munich. However, he was able to pass the time with club colleagues Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and Michael Carrick and is keenly looking ahead to his first international outing as a United player. In an ideal world, Hargreaves would be accompanied by Gerrard in England's midfield at Wembley. With England chasing a win which would allow them to take a massive stride towards qualification for next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, Hargreaves knows how vital it is for McClaren to have most of his main men available. But he is also aware of the need for Gerrard to remain fit beyond this weekend and is urging a degree of caution. 'Sometimes you have to do things to be fit and play in games,' he said. 'I don't think I have ever played when I have been 100%. 'But Steven is only young and you want him to be fit for a long time and not just 90 minutes. 'You get knocks all the time but there is a big difference between a knock and a broken toe. No-one really understands how sore that injury can be.' Although he fully expects Israel to adopt a defend-at-all-costs attitude this weekend as they look to match the goalless draw they recorded against England in Tel Aviv six months ago, Hargreaves is bullish about the chances of a home win. The criticisms of former Bolton defender Idan Tal, who lambasted England as 'thick, long-ball merchants' certainly cut little ice. 'It is obviously a poor comment,' said Hargreaves. 'I don't know who he is or what he meant by it but we are not going to be provoked. 'We are comfortable that we have a squad that includes some of the best players in the world. 'We know Israel are not going to just throw people forward. They didn't do that in the last game. They barely had a shot or a chance and they were the home team. 'Hopefully, we can get an early goal this time. If we manage that, I feel it will be a comfortable game for us.'