Confident Owen dreams of victory

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The Independent Football

The prospect of a major tournament can do strange things to people. Yesterday, it made Michael Owen, that most rational of footballers, dream in public.

The prospect of a major tournament can do strange things to people. Yesterday, it made Michael Owen, that most rational of footballers, dream in public.

Owen usually weighs his words as carefully as Zinedine Zidane measures his passes, but yesterday he allowed himself to get carried away. It was a brief excursion, he quickly checked himself, but it was an indication of this England team's confidence and aspirations.

"We're in this business to win trophies," he said. "I've had a little bit of success with medals for my club and I'd love to pick up a major one with England. The rewards I can only imagine."

Then he imagined them - out loud. "The drive for most people is the thought of coming home to the reception we would get ... The open-top bus ride and everything else."

"Steady Michael," came the inner voice. He added: "I don't want to get too much ahead of myself here, but it would be unbelievable if we could win anything for England. I genuinely believe we can with this group of players."

Before England's footballers can emulate their oval-ball compatriots - for it is the celebrations of rugby's World Cup success which Owen is thinking of - they too must negotiate the French. Instead of the talented but callow Frederick Michalak, it is the significantly more experienced Thierry Henry whom England must stop on Sunday. Yesterday, England insisted he was just another player and France just another team, but then conceded both were rather special.

"I'm conscious not to over-hype them," said Owen before adding: "They are a fantastic team. In my opinion France are better than Brazil at the moment, the best in the world, but I'm confident in our players. We are more than good enough to hold our own.

"We're not in awe of France. We'll show them plenty of respect but we are not scared of them. They have fantastic individuals but we won't build them up to be more than they are.

"If you are an international player you've reached a certain standard. You should not be lining up looking at the opposition and thinking, 'I'd love to be like them'."

So he does not envy Henry's talents?

"I think people would prefer to watch Thierry Henry than Michael Owen, and on form he's the best in the world, but I think I have other qualities he doesn't have."

Which ones?

"I'd rather not say. I'm not good at the big-headed stuff."

So it is back to Henry.

"He has taken striking to a new level," added Owen. "He has few, if any weaknesses. There's no one like him in the world on current form."

The dream of white shirts celebrating from Top Shop to Selfridges, with St George being waved from every traffic light, was receding. A new witness was required, one who faces Henry every week in training. Enter Sol Campbell.

"Thierry's had a fantastic season," said Campbell. "On the day you have just got to match him. It is like gladiators out there, you have to make sure you perform well and concentrate. You have to be able to survive 90 minutes.

"The first thing you think when he comes towards you is, 'Which way is he going to go?' He can go both sides. The trick is to make sure you don't get in a position where he is one-to-one."

Still, rumour has it the French are wobbly at the back, with Fabien Barthez and Marcel Desailly under pressure. "We can score against them, we can score against any team," Owen said.

He then added: "I've heard players, ours included, wondering how we can beat them. You talk about it and think, 'Well, you can get at him, and maybe at him', but I'm not being defeatist, but they haven't conceded a goal in about 12 games. They are one of the best defences in the world."

The personnel manning England's own defence remains uncertain. As England trained yesterday, on the pitch on which Celtic won the European Cup and a long-past England team beat Portugal 10-0, eyes were regularly cast towards a peaked tent by the sidelines.

It was reminiscent of the ones which decorate jousting tournaments in films about medieval times. The knight on a white charger England players were looking for it to produce was a healthy John Terry. The Chelsea centre-half, who was inside the tent having an intensive massage for his hamstring strain, is England's only injury doubt and while Jamie Carragher, his likely replacement, was solid enough against Iceland on Saturday, Henry represents quite a step up from Heidar Helguson.

Owen was confident his team-mate could handle the task if called upon. "Jamie is one of the most intelligent footballers you can have," he said. "You can put him anywhere and he'll settle within a couple of seconds. He can play any position on the pitch but a lot of people think his best position is centre-half. He played there at the back end of last season and did very well. I'd have no qualms about him playing."

Campbell added: "Hopefully John will make it, but Jamie has had a great season and is playing good football. I'm relaxed whoever plays. In international football this happens, people get injuries. A problem comes up and you have to solve it, it's like life."

The Arsenal player was in philosophical mood, a reflection, he said, of a change in his outlook brought on by the death of his father in the autumn. "It was a difficult time for me," Campbell said. "I had to take stock of a lot of things. You grieve and you think a lot. I look at life differently now and look at football with a new energy. It has helped my game. A lot of football comes down to mental strength and I've been more consistent.

"I'm in a good space. I've had a great season and I'm happy with myself. I enjoy football. It still hurts to lose a game. I'm in football to play to win, but I have that balance now."

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