Sir Alex Ferguson insists Michael Owen should not abandon all hope of featuring in his fourth World Cup finals next summer.
Although Owen did take up an invite to attend England's victory over Belarus at Wembley on Wednesday, his chances of making Fabio Capello's 23-men squad for South Africa appear remote.
The Manchester United front-man has not featured in the Italian's plans since the friendly defeat to France 18 months ago, with a succession of injuries leaving Capello unable to make any objective judgement on England's fourth highest goalscorer. And, although Ferguson believes Capello knows almost all of the men he wants alongside him in the battle for the world's biggest prize, the United chief insists Owen could still make it.
''There may be two or three places up for grabs,'' observed Ferguson. ''Fabio maybe will have a number up to 25 in his mind. He will then have to eliminate from that to make 23. 'Michael Owen has a good chance because he is a striker and England don't have a tremendous number of them.
''The form of Carlton Cole will have encouraged him and Peter Crouch's goals don't do him any harm. Along with Wayne Rooney I think those three will go to South Africa, then it is a fight for one more.''
The significant flaw in Ferguson's assessment is that Emile Heskey is not mentioned. Given the Aston Villa man is rated so highly by Capello, it is difficult to imagine him not making the trip. However, the point has been made. Now Owen just needs to stay fit, given his last appearance against Wolfsburg was wrecked when he limped off with his latest injury.
''Michael has to play more games,'' said Ferguson. ''Maybe we shouldn't have played him against Wolfsburg. He felt his groin two days before, so we should have left it alone. He did train three days later but we know that part now and we wouldn't do it again.''