Football: Euro 2000 Play-Offs: Owen the ace in Keegan's full England pack

Liverpool striker insists he is `sharp' after recovering from injury and ready to return to international duty at Hampden

NAPOLEON'S requirement of his generals, that they be "lucky", applies just as much in late 20th century football as it did in early 19th-century warfare. Yesterday the suspicion that Kevin Keegan is thus blessed began to harden.

Having been given a second chance at qualifying for Euro 2000 by the Swedes last month, he has become the first national leader to have all of his chosen men available for duty since Sir Lancelot's sudden departure left an empty seat at King Arthur's round table.

Given the history of withdrawals suffered by his predecessors, from Sir Walter Winterbottom to Glenn Hoddle, and by Keegan himself, such a scenario must have seemed as likely when he named his squad as a squadron of low flying pigs interrupting training.

However, despite a full weekend programme, including a bruising north London derby, he yesterday welcomed all 23 selected players to Burnham Beeches. The only major injury was the media room photocopier.

Not everyone actually trained yesterday morning, that was too much to ask, but everyone was expected to be fit for Saturday's play-off first leg with Scotland at Hampden Park. "There are a few with niggles," Keegan conceded, "but it is the first time everyone has reported and all have a chance of playing."

Of the five players who missed or cut short yesterday's training, Alan Shearer, Martin Keown, Jamie Redknapp and Tony Adams should all do a full session today while Andy Cole, who has a bruised calf, is expected to be involved by Thursday. Three others, Ray Parlour, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen, are short of match practice but that was known when Keegan named his squad. Of this trio, Owen is the only player likely to feature in Glasgow and he, said Keegan, is "fit", but maybe not "match-fit".

The player himself had no such doubts. "I've trained for the last week at Liverpool and played a game on Saturday so there is certainly nothing in my mind that I've got any problems. I came through the game with no stiffness or anything, it was fine. So, I'm looking forward to Scotland."

While Keegan may not have any injury worries, he will not, this time, be naming his team before Saturday,despite a crafty attempt by a Scottish reporter to commit him to doing so. This, Keegan explained was an exceptional occasion.

Not that there will be too many surprises. The bulk of the team will be well-known to Keegan's Scotland counterpart, Craig Brown: Keown, Adams and Sol Campbell at the back; David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Paul Ince, Redknapp and Phil Neville in midfield, Shearer and Owen or Cole in attack.

In goal? Good question, one which Keegan himself said he did not know the answer to yet.

"There's no doubt about it, they are very close and I'm very fortunate to have the problem [of deciding between] two goalkeepers of that quality," he said. "There is the experience of David Seaman, then there is the fact that Nigel Martyn is probably playing as well as he has ever done."

Seaman has been criticised since he returned from injury but Keegan said: "I will pick the goalkeeper I think is right for the game bearing in mind the way he's playing at club level, the way he's training with me, and the performances he has given me."

As for Shearer's partner, it would appear to be Owen if he can convince Keegan he is match sharp. "It's really a case of if he's fit there has to be a place in the side for him," admitted Keegan, adding: "He looks pretty fit to me, he has certainly trained fantastic this morning."

Having suffered a hamstring injury late last season, Owen did not start this season in Liverpool's team then broke down with a different hamstring injury after coming on against Southampton. He has thus only played three full matches this season but looked sharp when he appeared as a substitute for England against Belgium last month.

"That helped my confidence," he admitted yesterday. "Being away for four months, people say you've lost your sharpness and sometimes you begin to believe it. It was great to know that I was back and sharp again.

"I think when you're young, and you haven't had an injury, you think to yourself: `What's all this about needing time after an injury?' You don't understand it. You think: `You've played in the Premiership for two years, you've seen a lot that can be thrown at you.' But when you have a long-term injury, you understand. You think: `Why isn't this happening? Why isn't that happening?' But I've only missed five days of training in the last few months and against Belgium, and since then in training, I've felt much sharper."

Owen, whose hamstring problems are related to a muscle weakness around his pelvis, now stretches for half an hour before and after playing and training. A tiresome practice but one, he hopes, which will enable him to stretch the Scots on Saturday and ensure that they snap rather than his hamstrings.

Froggatt's fortune, page 28

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high