Gerrard aims to forge goal link with Owen

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Fate has rarely been kind to England managers where injuries are concerned, the long absences of Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer during the last decade underlining their cruel fortune. Kevin Keegan is no exception, losing Tony Adams, Steve McManaman, Steven Gerrard and David Seaman during the European Championship and a succession of left-footed players throughout his reign.

Fate has rarely been kind to England managers where injuries are concerned, the long absences of Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer during the last decade underlining their cruel fortune. Kevin Keegan is no exception, losing Tony Adams, Steve McManaman, Steven Gerrard and David Seaman during the European Championship and a succession of left-footed players throughout his reign.

This week, however, and whisper it quietly, luck may be with the England coach. Though it would be stretching a point to say he has a clean bill of health - Sol Campbell, Jamie Redknapp, Jason Wilcox and David Batty remain on the injured list - the key players,despite some recent worries, appear to be fit.

While a few squad members again missed training yesterday none are said to be major concerns and all the anticipated starters for Saturday's Wembley finale against Germany are likely to be fit.

One who Keegan was particularly pleased to see back in action was Gerrard, who had missed more internationals than he had played due to a troublesome back problem. Since making his debut against Ukraine in May and, after missing out on matches against Argentina and Brazil, he has managed just 29 minutes, as an impressive substitute against Germany in Euro 2000.

Ruled out of the subsequent tie against Romania, when his energy, tackling and passing were missed, he also missed last month's friendly with France and Keegan admitted, after training at Bisham yesterday, that he is "delighted" to have Gerrard available for the launch of England's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Keegan added: "It's the first time I think he has reported for England fully fit and that is a major plus. He did ever so well when he came on against Germany, you couldn't ask any more of someone with his experience to perform like he did."

The 20-year-old midfielder was just as upbeat. He said: "There was a time when every time I went out to play or train I was thinking in the back of my mind: 'Am I going to get injured today? How long am I going to be out for now? What games am I going to miss?'

"But now I have played a run of games for Liverpool and been training consistently the problems are not as bad and I feel a lot more confident.

"My back is the main problem, but it is making other parts of my body niggle, my groin, my hamstrings. They are not serious injuries, they go off after a couple of days, but I have missed training sessions and some big games. I now do special exercises to keep my back mobilised and have treatment after games."

Liverpool and Keegan have expressed doubts about the capacity of Gerrard's body to play back-to-back matches and he admitted: "I will miss certain games but I am still growing, hopefully when I do stop developing these problems will not happen as much. I am too young to be a crock."

This suggests Gerrard, if he plays on Saturday, will be doubtful for Wednesday's tie in Finland which makes the absence of Darren Anderton from the squad all the more unfortunate. Anderton was injured when the squad was chosen and omitted, unlike the theninjured Rio Ferdinand and Emile Heskey, because Tottenham told Keegan there was no chance of him recovering.

However, to Keegan's surprise, he played an hour as substitute on Saturday, and played well. Keegan, who has already had one row with George Graham about an "injured" Spurs player - Campbell a year ago - has put Anderton on stand-by.

On Saturday Gerrard should again face Dietmar Hamann, his Liverpool team-mate, who, when fouled by Gerrard in Charleroi, was said by the younger man to have "squealed like a girl". Did he now regret that?

"No. I don't think he deserved the tackle, but he shouldn't have squealed like a girl, should he?"

Hamann has since been joined at Anfield by Christian Ziege, who is also expected to play for Germany, but, said Michael Owen, Liverpool's dressing-room banter had been dominated by Sami Hyypia of Finland. "I think he feels he has nothing to lose and they fancy their chances. The Germans, like us, have been reserved. It could go either way so I don't think we want to say anything."

Gerrard said he had spoken to Owen about his injury worries, Owen having suffered similar frustration with his hamstring. "He said the main thing is to try and be positive when you are injured, try and get yourself fit as quick as possible and back to playing these big games," added Gerrard.

The nearest they have come to playing together for England was when Gerrard replaced Owen against Germany, but, at Liverpool, they go way back, having both been in the same Under-12 side. Owen recalled: "Every time he got the ball he would pass to me." Gerrard responded: "And every time I did he scored." Keegan wouldwelcome more of the same on Saturday.

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