Football: Owen-mania swamps Anfield

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 2

Internazionale 1

WHAT A difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Michael Owen was a promising striker Liverpool were trying to hold back for fear he might burn out; last night he was the main act in a game against Internazionale.

Outside Stanley Park stall after stall had pictures for sale of the 18- year-old boy wonder, who was making his first appearance at Anfield since that goal. Meanwhile, Radio Five Live was discussing, seemingly without risk of accusations of being premature, how he could be left out of the Football League's list of 100 legends. Only Ronaldo could have upstaged him, and he was still resting after the World Cup. But what am I saying? At Anfield last night it would have required the entire Brazil team, with Pele as manager, to overshadow Owen - and it would have been a close contest.

The crowd gave him an ovation when he came out for the warm-up, and swooned with anticipation whenever he received the ball. Inter appeared to have heard of him, too, because Franceso Colonnese man-marked him from the start.

The match, which carried the pompous title the Pirelli Cup, was the final clause in the small writing of the transfer that brought Paul Ince from Italy to Merseyside, and it was not surprising the England midfielder was gushing about both clubs.

"When you are in the situation like I was, where everyone at the club loves you and you can't do anything wrong," he wrote, with a worrying lack of tongue in cheek, in the programme, "then you do ask yourself why you are leaving... I wouldn't have left them for any other club but Liverpool."

With such praise Inter had to turn up with a decent side and, although Ronaldo and Roberto Baggio were missing, there were four World Cup players in their line-up, including Javier Zanetti, who scored for Argentina against England on the same night Owen became the toast of England.

Gerard Houllier is famous for being virtually unknown in Britain but it was a match of note for him, too, his first at Anfield since he became joint-manager with Roy Evans. What Houllier learned is debatable, because the fare was the usual non-competitive pre-season run-around. It provided little test for Liverpool's back line, which aparently could soon be reinforced by the German World Cup player Christian Worns.

But Ince appeared to take the occasion seriously and when a 31st minute attack appeared to be petering out he took a running thump at the ball from 25 yards that Gianluca Pagliuca did well to block. Ince's momentum carried him into the area and a second volley found the corner of the net.

Cristiano Zanetti claimed an equaliser after 72 minutes, but Steve Harkness crashed in the winner four minutes later to prevent the game from going to penalties.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Friedel; Heggem (Kvarme, 15), Carragher, Babb (Matteo, 78), Staunton; McAteer, Ince (Harkness, 63), McManaman, Berger; Riedle (Murphy, 78), Owen. Substitutes not used: Bjornebye, Gudnasson, James (gk).

Internazionale (4-4-2): Pagliuca (Mazzantini, h-t); Galante (C Zanetti, 60), Bergomi (Dabo, h-t), Colonnese (Camara, 70), Milanese; J Zanetti (Fresi, h-t), Elias (Mezzano, 60), Cauet, Pirlo; Ventola, Zamorano.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).