Crouch set to fill 'big void' left by Owen departure

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The Independent Online

When Craig Bellamy finally gets to meet his new Liverpool strike partner, Peter Crouch, he will discover a man whose temperament is the polar opposite of his own. England's No 21 is the most affable, least confrontational footballer you could hope to meet but yesterday the man who steps into Michael Owen's shoes had a point to make.

"I totally resent that," was Crouch's response to the suggestion that his size is the reason that England have resorted to desperate long punts forward. His height may mean that he will, if selected, be playing at a higher altitude than any of the Ecuador players in Stuttgart on Sunday but the man himself would prefer the ball on the deck.

It has been some year for the 25-year-old. From the goal drought that lasted four months for Liverpool this season, to the boos that accompanied his arrival as a substitute for England against Austria in October, to the robotic dancing show for Prince William earlier this month. It would not be Crouch if there was not some issue to be faced down with a sigh, and a philosophical acceptance of football's fate.

"It's very frustrating that maybe because I'm tall and different to Michael [Owen] and Wayne, to hear that because I'm in the team we're going to play long ball," Crouch said. "Yes it's an option we can use, but certainly not an option we want to use all the time. I think you can see that when I'm in the team. Against Sweden we didn't play any long balls. Most of the passing was to feet and that's the best way for us to play.

"I prefer to play the right way. That's the way I was brought up, playing football on the floor. In international football you can't just knock high balls in. You've got to be more cute than that.We've got a lot more talent and a lot more belief in our own ability than that."

The next 24 hours will decide whether Crouch has a role to play on Sunday as Eriksson mulls over the two last options left open to him in Owen's absence. He could deploy Owen Hargreaves as a holding midfielder in a 4-5-1 formation that would see Crouch left out. Alternatively, if Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville are injured he could switch Hargreaves to right-back, move Jamie Carragher to the centre and persevere with Crouch in a 4-4-2 formation.

Crouch described in earnest tones the nature of Owen's departure from the team hotel on Wednesday - the goodbyes and the muted atmosphere - but one man's torn cruciate ligament is another man's opportunity. "Michael is a big void to fill, but I don't know if I'd say it was daunting for me," he said. "I've just got to do what I can do."

Confident through the recent bad moments, which included that early volley against Trinidad & Tobago that almost went out for a throw in, Crouch's career has been a battle against the odds. His early years were spent first at Tottenham and then Queen's Park Rangers, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Norwich and Southampton. Before the Sweden match it was pointed out he had even been on loan there to IFK Hassleholm where the locals remembered his beer-drinking more than his goals.

It has taken an unusual kind of character to get through. "I don't think as a striker that you can doubt yourself, you can't do it for a minute," Crouch said. "You have to put yourself out there; you're the hero one minute if you score a goal, and then when you miss one, you're the villain. If you haven't got confidence in your own ability after missing a chance to come back and put yourself in that position again, there's no way you can play that role.

"Maybe the fact I've had to bounce back so many times has given me a good attitude. It has definitely helped me as a bloke and as a player too. There were times at Villa when I didn't get a game when I thought I should have done. You have to move on, work hard and that's what I did. Thankfully I'm here today."

England put Scolari in 'impossible' position

Luiz Felipe Scolari has explained for the first time his decision to turn down the chance to manage England.

In an interview broadcast last night with the BBC's World Cup analyst Leonardo, the Portugal manager said that the Football Association's need to appoint a coach before the World Cup made it impossible for him to accept the position. He also explained that not being able to bring his staff from Portugal to be his backroom team was an important factor in the decision, although he did not rule out managing England in the future.

"Imagine if I meet England during the World Cup and I have to say to my players, 'Die for Portugal'," he said. "I only can say to my players what I really feel."

Talks with the FA went well, he said, "but the problem was, the person I am. I couldn't decide to be a coach of another country before a World Cup when I was representing Portugal."

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