Owen upbeat over England's Euro2008 fate
Michael Owen has added his weight to the demand for Steve McClaren to remain as England manager - but the star striker has admitted the Three Lions should not be presently fearing for their Euro 2008 lives.
Instead of being the perfect tune-up for a celebration match against Croatia next week, Friday's friendly in Austria has become almost the most irrelevant international England have played for well over two decades.
Although there can be no doubting Owen is correct in his assertion that England must treat the trip to Vienna with the utmost seriousness he knows, as do all his team-mates, that if Israel or Macedonia fail to do the Three Lions a massive favour 24 hours later Croatia's visit to Wembley will become a trial by crowd for McClaren, who faces the unhappy prospect of being barracked by 90,000 of his own supporters.
'It could be a tough night for a number of reasons,' he said.
'You don't want to go out at Wembley with nothing but pride to play for.
'There is no hiding the fact we should be qualifying out of this group but it is easy to think 'What if?'.
'We are talking about hypotheticals. There is a lot of uncertainty around at the moment but we have to stay positive.
'If someone did us a favour on Saturday and we weren't in the right frame of mind to take advantage on Wednesday, it would be criminal.'
This week alone, Steven Gerrard and Phil Neville have backed McClaren, who can also count on the support of senior FA officials, including chairman Geoff Thompson, chief executive Brian Barwick and influential international committee member Sir David Richards.
The supporters may have an entirely opposite view but Owen believes there are a number of factors behind McClaren's in-house popularity.
'It is a natural thing for the players to back the manager,' he said.
'Everyone knows Steve is a good coach. He has been with us for a while and we all think he is the right man for the job.'
Rather than dwell too much on the defeat in Russia last month, Owen feels if England do miss out, the blame can be found in the home draw with Macedonia 12 months earlier.
In a group where Macedonia, Estonia and Andorra have lost every match they have played against the more fancied countries, including Israel, with the exception of that horrid goalless draw at Old Trafford, those dropped two points could now prove crucial.
'We let too many points slip early on,' said Owen, who missed the opening six matches of England's qualifying campaign with the knee injury he sustained at the 2006 World Cup.
'As opposed to thinking losing in Russia was the big thing, I would look at Macedonia at home.
'But over the last six games, there has been a massive improvement. We won five consecutive qualifiers 3-0 and have only been let down by that mad five minutes in Russia.'
Owen was not part of the squad that drew in Israel last March either.
He has been told enough about the Tel Aviv trip to know Russia will not have it easy this weekend, underpinning the belief within English circles that Group E may have one last twist to take ahead of the final round of games.
'Israel is a tough place to go,' said Owen.
'They have a cracking home record which bears that out. Maybe it is odds-against at the moment but we just have to hope.'
Joleon Lescott's appearance in central defence alongside Sol Campbell suggests the Everton man will be asked to fill the vacancy created by the absence of injured captain John Terry and the suspension of Rio Ferdinand.
With Ashley Cole still not quite 100% match-fit, Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge may fill the left-back role, although there was no hint as to whether Scott Carson will be handed his debut in goal.
Injury has also robbed England of the services of Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney, whose Manchester United team-mate Owen Hargreaves has remained in the north west for treatment on a knee injury.
He will only be called upon against Croatia if a victory is required for qualification.
Owen will be partnered in attack by Peter Crouch, who has suddenly hit a bit of form for Liverpool.
'Peter is a top player,' said the Newcastle striker.
'He has a good scoring record with England and although he has probably not played as much for Liverpool as he would like, when he has played, he has done really well.
'I know him well and we have done quite well together in the past. If he gets his chance, he will not let anyone down.'