Football: Keegan choice weighed down by injuries

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN must decide today just how long the queue of walking wounded should be at next week's England training sessions.

As Keegan approaches the Euro 2000 qualifying games against Luxembourg and Poland, he finds himself weighed down by the all-too- familiar millstone of injuries.

There are doubts over at least five of his first-choice players - David Seaman, Gary Neville, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Michael Owen - while Graeme Le Saux and Paul Gascoigne are definitely ruled out.

Keegan will have been relieved that Adams came through 90 minutes of a reserve game on Tuesday, while Owen scored in a practice match against a Crewe youth team the same day and Neville was due to start his comeback in the Manchester United second team last night.

There is also hope for Seaman who, like Adams, is in line to return to first-team action for Arsenal at the weekend, while Campbell has an outside chance of playing for Tottenham on Saturday.

Keegan's dilemma is whether to name all five in his squad in the hope that they play for their clubs at the weekend and can prove their fitness during training sessions next week in time for the game against Luxembourg at Wembley on 4 September. It is likely that he will name an enlarged squad of around 25 players, but there is also a danger that several of his favoured players will pick up injuries over the weekend.

He may need to guard against suspension as well, as several England regulars are only one booking away from being banned for the final qualifying game in Poland on 8 September, while Paul Scholes is suspended for the game against Luxembourg after his red card at home to Poland.

Keegan also has the option of dipping into the Under-21 squad, with goalkeeper Richard Wright, defenders Danny Mills and Jamie Carragher, midfielders Kieron Dyer, Frank Lampard and Lee Bowyer and striker Emile Heskey all offering him strong alternatives.

Keegan is likely to name two other goalkeepers as well as Seaman - probably Nigel Martyn and Ian Walker - with David James and Tim Flowers just missing out despite good early-season form.

At full-back, he has fewer possibilities, with little cover apart from Mills for Phil Neville, Gary Neville - if fit - and Michael Gray as Le Saux and Wes Brown are injured, while even Andy Hinchcliffe has been suffering with a knee problem.

In central defence, there is at least the strong back-up of Rio Ferdinand, Jonathon Woodgate and Gareth Southgate to play alongside Martin Keown if Adams and Campbell prove to be unfit.

In midfield, Keegan's biggest posers would seem to revolve around Paul Ince and Steve McManaman. Ince has not yet appeared in a Keegan team, although the England manager did watch him in action for Middlesbrough against Liverpool last weekend.

McManaman has only just started the Spanish season but is likely to be selected, although Darren Anderton is a stronger contender to fill the problem left midfield role.

With Scholes' absence, Keegan will either play Tim Sherwood alongside David Batty or, more adventurously, move David Beckham inside, with Ray Parlour operating on the right side.

Jamie Redknapp and Nicky Butt are the favourites to join them in the squad, while Lampard and Dyer as well as Bowyer must come close to a senior call-up.

In the attacking department, Keegan has major problems, with a number of his likely choices yet to hit form. Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler and, if fit, Owen will all feature, while Chris Sutton has started well enough at Chelsea. Apart from Heskey, other possibles are Kevin Phillips and the teenager Francis Jeffers, although they may miss out along with Dion Dublin.

Keegan will want to keep as many options open as possible, but he may yet find that several are non-starters well before England play Luxembourg.

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