The England striker Michael Owen has declared his desire to win the Golden Boot award at the World Cup – because that would mean England had probably reached the final. Owen, who yesterday flew to Korea with the squad from their Dubai training camp, is one of the leading candidates to become the tournament's highest goalscorer.
Indeed, Gary Lineker, who won the award in 1986, has named the Liverpool striker as one of his six shortlisted favourites along with Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Raul, Thierry Henry and Gabriel Batistuta.
Owen, who was this year named European Footballer of the Year, puts success for England ahead of personal glory but he accepts that both could go hand in hand. "The Golden Boot is obviously a great award to win and not many strikers have won it," he declared. "We will need to progress through the first stage and then go right the way to the final for any of us to have a chance of that and obviously the team is the most important thing."
As Lineker proved, winning the Golden Boot is not the sole preserve of the victorious side, but it does tend to indicate a team that have at least reached the semi-finals even if England were knocked out in the last eight in 1986.
Croatia's Davor Suker prevailed last time around, while Bulgaria's Hristo Stoichkov was joined at the top by Russia's Oleg Salenko in 1994 and Italy's Salvatore Schillaci was the surprise winner in 1990.
Owen's confidence is high but he is still adopting a realistic attitude, insisting that England have the ability to succeed but accepting their primary goal is to grow as a team for future tournaments.
"When you say that we'll be a better team in four years, you run the risk of people saying you don't fancy it this time around, but that's not the case," he said. "We're one of about eight teams that have a very good chance of winning it. Obviously France and Argentina probably stand out ahead of us but if we played them in a one-off game then we wouldn't be scared.
"Whatever happens in this World Cup, though – and we'll be trying to win it – everyone should realise we have a very young side. France started where we are now and look what they've gone and done. I certainly think we have the potential to do that as well."
Kieron Dyer, meanwhile, was joining up with the rest of the squad yesterday after catching an overnight flight out from England with just eight fellow passengers, all from the Football Association, on a plane laid on by British Airways. They arrived at 9am local time in Dubai, giving them time only for a shower at the squad hotel before setting off back to the airport to take the same plane on a nine-hour flight to Korea.
Training was then due to take place at 5pm tomorrow, although the fitness tests aimed at deciding whether Dyer will be fit for the tournament are not scheduled to start until tomorrow as he will need time to recover from the flights.
The Newcastle midfielder will also be behind his team-mates in getting used to the time difference and the baking conditions in the Far East. The England squad have been warned they will lose up to half a stone in weight during matches at the World Cup.
Even if Dyer recovers in time to claim his intended place on the left flank against Sweden in the opening game, goalkeeper David James pointed out that his young West Ham team-mate Joe Cole could be used as a surprise weapon form the bench. "I think Joe would thrive on it," James said. "I don't think he'll be fazed. He played in the Italy game and there was a question mark over him losing possession for their first goal. But in the following game against Paraguay, he went straight out and did what Joe Cole does – and that's play exciting football.
"In our next match with West Ham, he was straight on his game again. He's got enthusiasm and confidence, and that's something you can't buy in a player. To say he's got nerves of steel might be the easiest way of explaining it. He's fresh and bubbling at the moment, which is good timing. He's on top of his game, so I'm sure he'll do well."