Keegan drops hint over Owen and Cole

England coach ready to reveal preferred striking combination for Wembley showdown against Germany
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The Independent Football

While his German counterpart was fending off enquiries about sex, drugs and own goals, Kevin Keegan's biggest problem yesterday was trying to avoid revealing his hand too early.

While his German counterpart was fending off enquiries about sex, drugs and own goals, Kevin Keegan's biggest problem yesterday was trying to avoid revealing his hand too early.

The suspicion is that he has failed, his excitement at the prospect of unleashing a partnership of Michael Owen and Andy Cole on Rudi Völler's embattled team in Saturday's World Cup qualifying tie getting the better of him.

"I would be very unlikely to play with one striker in a home game," said Keegan after the squad's first day of training at Bisham Abbey yesterday. "I think you would have to go back into the Domesday Book to see the last time I did that. I will play with two up."

While that could mean Paul Scholes playing off Cole, as against France last month, which would be many pundits' choice, it almost certainly means pairing Owen and Cole, who have already scored 14 goals between them this season.

"They are unarguably the two best strikers in this country at the moment and I do not see any reason why they can't play together," said Keegan. "They can be a fantastic combination. They have a lot of pace, that's for sure."

Music to Owen's ears. The Liverpool striker, who has eight of those goals, is still simmering after being left out of the starting line-up in Paris and he said yesterday: "I want to be the striker that the team and the public can rely on. You go out and try to prove the point. I got 12 minutes against France and I managed to get myself on the score-sheet, but I would prefer to start a game and to prove myself over 90 minutes."

It is two years to the month since Owen last played a full game for England. It was in Luxembourg, in the twilight of Glenn Hoddle's reign. He scored then and has since added another four goals in 11 bit-parts, seven as a starter, four as a substitute.

"I don't enjoy coming off and I don't enjoy being a sub," he added yesterday. "I want to be in that starting XI and I want to play the full 90 minutes.

"I want to prove I am the man to take over from Alan Shearer. I would like to come down to the England squad without picking up a paper, or switching on a TV channel, and seeing 'the big debate'between Owen and someone else. I don't feel that way yet.

"I believe that I've done as much as I can in the first few weeks of the season. I'm playing as good as I've ever played."

Keegan agreed, adding: "He's been very, very impressive, whether with Liverpool or us. His attitude is tremendous. He is a very mature lad for his age. We forget he is so young because Joe Cole makes him look old now. He is still only 20 but he is very professional."

Owen said he felt he could combine well with Andy Cole just as he has with Robbie Fowler -"a more similar player" - and showed his hard-headed professionalism when the subject of Saturday being Wembley's farewell was discussed.

"It is a great game for that reason as well but when you get on the pitch, you don't think to yourself 'this is the last game at Wembley', you think to yourself 'how are we going to beat this team?' You are concentrating on what you're doing. Beforehand you take it all in and after you think 'what have I done there?' but during the game you are focused."

While Owen trained yesterday nine other players (Tony Adams, Martin Keown, David Beckham, Cole, Kieron Dyer, Emile Heskey, Rio Ferdinand, Graeme Le Saux and Dennis Wise) sat out the session. Most were resting minor knocks and Keegan hopes all will be training by Thursday. Dyer is the main doubt and Darren Anderton, whose recovery caught Keegan by surprise, is on standby to replace him if need be.

Keegan, meanwhile, was careful not to be drawn into the controversy surrounding Christophe Daum, the German coach-elect, who has been embroiled in scandals linking him with prostitutes, drugs and fraud. Asked by a reporter for a German news agency if he thought it might affect his opponents' morale he responded: "I'll talk about Rudi Völler, my respect for him is tremendous, he was a great player, but the other things are nothing to do with Kevin Keegan or England."

Up to a point. As England know from their own experience, teams under pressure often harness the situation to their advantage and Keegan is unlikely to assume German morale has suffered.