Lifeline gives Owen something to smile about
Michael Owen has described how the 'pain and despair' of his latest injury evaporated in the joy of seeing England's Euro 2008 hopes resurrected.
Owen will miss Wednesday night's final Group E qualifier against Croatia after tearing a thigh muscle in Friday's friendly win in Austria.
But his disappointment was tempered by the results yesterday that instead of seeing England eliminated, has left them needing only a draw to reach next summer's finals.
'My heart sank in the freezing air of Vienna on Friday but it soared as I sat at home in front of the television last night,' Owen wrote in the News of the World.
'Suddenly the pain and despair of picking up another injury in the friendly against Austria began to disappear as the outcome of the games in Israel and Macedonia began to unfold.
'Even though I will not be able to play against Croatia, the gateway to the Euro 2008 finals is open. Suddenly the world looks a brighter place.
'It looked pretty grim from where I was standing on Friday night. As soon as I planted my left foot beside the ball to line up a shot in the Austria game, I knew that I had torn a thigh muscle.
'The pain was instant and, even though I managed to get my shot away, I knew the game was over for me and so was all hope of playing against Croatia.
'It was more of a slow torture watching the Israel-Russia game last night but thankfully it all came out right for us in the end.
'No-one will be celebrating just yet because there is still a massive task ahead of us at Wembley but we have been thrown a lifeline that many think we do not deserve.
'For England not to be involved in a major championship finals for the first time in my career would have been a bitter blow.
'As a country, we don't have any divine right to be involved but it is inconceivable to think we are not one of the top teams in Europe.
'We must now go out and prove it - starting on Wednesday. There can be no excuses. We risk letting ourselves down and the fans and if we don't go through it will be one of the most depressing times of our careers.
'If we had been offered a qualifying group containing Russia, Israel and Croatia before the draw was made, we would have snapped it up in the belief that we would finish top.
'We have given ourselves a chance of scraping through the back door and we dare not let this one slip or we will deserve every bit of criticism that is thrown at us.
'It will be difficult to accept if we don't beat Croatia but I can imagine it will feel 100 times worse when next summer comes around.
'We might be lying on a beach somewhere with our families but our hearts and minds will be in Switzerland and Austria when the finals are under way.
'It has been a struggle through most of the qualifying campaign and, whatever the outcome against Croatia, questions are bound to be asked and a massive inquest will be held.
'I don't even want to think about squandering this late chance to qualify but you can bet there will be calls for a wholesale changes.
'I would resist that. I have already gone on record as saying the FA should stick with Steve McClaren and so have the other players. We have not said that because it is the polite and loyal thing to say and to avoid rocking the boat.
'There is a genuine feeling that Steve is the right man for the job. He has grown into the role and deserves the chance to put the record straight.
'As for ripping the squad apart and starting again - that would be an absolute nightmare.
'How could you discard such a fantastic collection of players who would walk into any national team? I wouldn't mind if we had youth or under-21 teams who were winning tournaments but at the moment, they don't.
'We have some talented youngsters who should be eased in. On personal level, it is back to the treatment table. Walking off on Friday night a lot of thoughts raced through my mind.
'I couldn't dwell on how it would be received back at my club. Newcastle are very important to me and I fretted about having to miss some important games, including one against my old club Liverpool.'