Football: Owen injury blow to Keegan

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MICHAEL OWEN'S chances of making Kevin Keegan's first England team were rated remote last night on his return from a Liverpool trip to France.

The striker whose goals could have made Keegan's "debut" against Poland next Saturday more comfortable is struggling with a hamstring strain.

Owen could not train with Liverpool after picking up the problem in their last Premier League match at Derby. The club will allow him to travel tomorrow but expect the medical opinion to confirm he is not fit to play.

Keegan hoped to pair Owen with Alan Shearer in his ideal partnership. He is covered for options but Blackburn's Chris Sutton admits he is not 100 per cent ready to fill the breach on his recall. He has managed just one game since an ankle injury and said: "It was a bit of a surprise to be named by England. I know that my fitness is not fully there yet. It's been a fairly disastrous season for injuries and I am still working to get back to my best. However I am proud to be called up by my country."

Andy Cole is now the favourite to play with Shearer, a meeting of Newcastle old and new as Keegan's connections with the Toon Army shape his first selection even more.

Arsene Wenger is firmly convinced that Emmanuel Petit will still be an Arsenal player next season and has warned the Frenchman against any thoughts of a move to Italy. Wenger and the Arsenal players seem to have persuaded the midfielder that his future lies at Highbury despite his frustration at his treatment by referees.

Petit's stay at Highbury had been put in doubt following his third red card of the season at Everton last weekend, when he insisted in the tunnel after the game: "That's it, I'm finished with English football". A later report, in which he was said to have insisted that he would see through his threat, seemed to indicate that he would be leaving Highbury this summer, with Serie A rumoured to be his likely destination.

Petit's agent confirmed that the midfielder had been considering his future but added that he was the type of person who was known to change his mind and was not intent on leaving the Premiership. The Frenchman himself said yesterday: "I'm happy and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game and to helping Arsenal retain the championship."

However, Wenger was even more insistent that his midfielder, who has more than three years left on his contract, would be staying at Highbury after holding talks with him. The Arsenal manager said: "I will keep the conversation I had with him private as that's part of the respect I have for the players, but I'm convinced that he will be here next season without any doubt.

"I believe what he says to me. You can understand his frustration because he wasn't happy with the way he played at Everton and with being sent off. But it doesn't mean that he has to leave the club or that he forgets what he has achieved here, how much the fans love him and how much football in England has given him."