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Dec 10, 2009

Gullit: Owen faces tough battle

Ruud Gullit has said he thinks Michael Owen faces a fight to make it to the World Cup despite his Champions League hat-trick for Manchester United re-opening the debate about which strikers will make it into Fabio Capello's squad.

•  Read Ruud Gullit's column here

Gullit believes that Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe are certainties and that there are four more who must "hustle" for the final two places.

In a special ESPN Soccernet column Gullit said: "While it was good that he scored a hat-trick in Germany in the Champions League he still has a lot to do to convince Capello, take it from me. I have been sceptical about Owen, but I really hope he proves me wrong, but he will need to be playing regularly, and the danger is that he might have scored three in the Champions League but he could be back on the bench for a long time.

"I don't think Capello will take too many senior players with doubts such as these. He might take David Beckham, but not Owen. Then again, if he took Owen, he might not take Beckham. Owen, for me, has much less chance. Rooney and Defoe are certainties, while the rest must hustle for their places. Capello likes Emile Heskey, but he also has Carlton Cole, Peter Crouch and Darren Bent. There are a lot of choices.''

The Dutchman also believes that injured Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie can return for Holland in the World Cup and make the impact that Marco Van Basten did when he returned for his country to help them win the 1988 European Championships.

Gullit starred in that tournament and lifted the trophy as captain of the Dutch side that had Van Basten producing one of the most complete displays of a No.9. Van Persie has the capabilities in front of goal to make a real impact on the side and Gullit sees similarities in the way he hopes the striker will return to the Dutch team the way Van Basten did.

Gullit says: "At the moment is all doom and gloom about Van Persie and his very serious injury that is keeping him for some time, but we had the same scenario with Marco van Basten back in 1988 before our European championship tournament.

"Marco was out for some considerable time through injury but he came back just in time for the European championships and when he did he was in great shape in time for that tournament and the rest is history.

"Perhaps the same is going to happen with Van Persie and he will return refreshed, in better shape than most of the best players who have to play so many games in a long, hard season. Van Persie will be out for three months, but it is crucial he comes back in peak form and fitness for Holland's chances in the World Cup. He is a very important player, for sure. Arsenal are going to miss him very much, and Holland need him too.

"Because he plays for Arsenal, it is often suggested that he has succeeded Dennis Bergkamp, both for club and country. But they are totally different players. I must say Robin Van Persie is one of a kind, so it's hard to compare him really, he is such a good player. But I wouldn't say we are relying on one player; that is not the case, we have a really good team as we showed going through the qualifying campaign winning every game.''

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