Beckham injury opens way for Bentley's return

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The Independent Online

David Bentley is in line for the most rapid international rehabilitation yet when Steve McClaren names his England squad today for the crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers against Israel and Russia. The Blackburn Rovers midfielder is a candidate to return to the squad as David Beckham and Steven Gerrard struggle with injury.

Beckham, 32, is out of both games, on 8 and 12 September, after injuring knee ligaments in a Los Angeles Galaxy game on Wednesday night. Sources say he is "touch and go" for the two qualifiers in October against Estonia at Wembley and Russia in Moscow.

However, of even greater concern for McClaren is Gerrard's fitness, with the Liverpool midfielder set to be ruled out of tomorrow's game against Derby County with further complications to the hairline fracture to his right foot.

Excused from the England friendly against Germany last week, and rested for the second leg of Liverpool's Champions League qualifier against Toulouse on Tuesday, Gerrard had been expected to return to the Liverpool team against Derby. However, the player himself has told McClaren he will join up with the squad regardless and hopes to overcome the pain and play in the Israel game on 8 September.

His manager, Rafael Benitez, has all but conceded that he will not be able to play against Derby – the difficulty may come when Gerrard is named in the England squad today. "I spoke to Steven again and the news was not very positive," Benitez said. "It will be very difficult for him to play on Saturday. The doctor will continue to help him but maybe it is too early for this weekend. He would need a painkilling injection to play."

It means that McClaren will have no choice but to consider Bentley. The Blackburn winger was in action in the Uefa Cup qualifying game against the Finnish team MyPa last night. The right-wing place is wide open now with Aaron Lennon out until next month. Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has had a decent start to the season, looks the most likely starter.

Bentley was told before the squad was picked for the Germany friendly that he was not in contention because of his refusal to play for the Under-21s in the European Championship in the summer. The 22-year-old was thought to have ruined his international career with that decision, but McClaren he appears to have little choice but to bring him back.

McClaren may yet choose Jermaine Jenas again after the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was overlooked for the squad to face Germany. Kieron Dyer, who broke his leg on Tuesday night, is out of contention and Peter Crouch is suspended for the Israel game, but will be named in the squad to feature against Russia.

There is disbelief in some quarters that LA Galaxy have insisted on playing Beckham so relentlessly even though he has so recently recovered from an injury to his left ankle, as well as travelling to England last week to play against Germany. The LA Galaxy coach, Frank Yallop, is under such pressure because of poor results that he believes he has no choice but to pick Beckham. He played in the Chivas game last week a day after the Germany friendly.

On Wednesday night it was an innocuous challenge with Fernando Salazar, who was playing for the Mexican side Pachuca, that jarred Beckham's right knee and will rule him out for between four and six weeks, although a scan today will be definitive.

"It doesn't feel good, the ligament strain is four to six weeks," Beckham said. "If the scan comes back and it is not too bad, then maybe I have got a chance, we will have to see. But maybe it is a sign for me to say, 'I need the rest and to get it right'. And to not come back until it is right. I was devastated to be taken out of the game [after 33 minutes]. I was looking forward to it and my left ankle was better. Now it has gone from one thing to another."

The good news for McClaren was that Michael Owen offered nothing but self-assurance following his first Newcastle goal for 20 months against Barnsley in the League Cup on Wednesday night. Watched in person by McClaren, Owen played 82 minutes of the match and afterwards declared himself fully fit for Newcastle and England.

Owen stressed that he is "match-fit", even though this was his first Newcastle start of the season, one delayed by a thigh strain sustained in a pre-season friendly last month. "I've been fit for a long time now," Owen said, "I mean, since I made my debut – at least it felt like making my debut because I was out for so long – at Reading at the end of the season. I have worked as hard as anyone and have not missed many training sessions or games and I played for England as well in the summer.

"I've had a thigh injury, which lasted about two and a half weeks, but that's it really. My fitness results were as good as anyone's pre-season and I hardly stopped throughout the summer, training right the way through."

Owen denied any particular feeling of rustiness or of heaving a sigh of relief at his goal against Barnsley. "I can't really say it was a feeling of relief," he said. "The feeling was of normal joy, like every other goal.

"I don't really go into it thinking, 'Oh no, I haven't scored for 20 months' – after all, 19 of those months I've been injured. So those stats make a good headline but, obviously, they don't mean anything. I think everyone knows when I am fit and playing, I will score goals. Scoring goals is the last of my worries."

England's absent XI

1. Wayne Bridge, Chelsea, Out for further month after hip surgery

2. Ledley King, Tottenham, Six weeks from returning from knee surgery

3. Gary Neville, Man Utd, Thigh strain, out for further one to two weeks

4. David Beckham, LA Galaxy, Suspected knee injury. Possibly out for six weeks

5. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham, Still a fortnight away from return after knee surgery

6. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool, Broken toe threatens involvement

7. Kieron Dyer, West Ham, Double leg break rules him out for four months

8. Scott Parker, West Ham, Knee injury could keep him on sidelines

9. Joey Barton, Newcastle, Metatarsal injury requires further fortnight of recovery

10. Peter Crouch, Liverpool, Suspended from Israel game

11. Wayne Rooney, Man Utd, A month away from return after breaking foot

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